Baron Robert Pouget, managing director of Oxford Cheese Company explains the history behind the English semi-soft blue.
In the 80’s there was an attempt at producing and marketing a semi-soft Blue Cheese, called Lymeswold. It was launched with great fanfare and much publicity as the first new English cheese, which would rival the continental soft blues. The then minister, Peter Walker, was quoted at the time as saying “my dog loves it” unfortunately, even though the minister’s dog may have loved it, the great British public didn’t. It failed both as a cheese and as a marketing exercise and after considerable effort and cost and acquiring the nickname, Slimeswold, production ceased.
In 1994, Baron Robert Pouget began to take direct control of his cheese company. As part of his reassessment of the business and its potential expansion, he conceived the idea of producing a semi-soft Blue to rival the French and italian imports that were filling the vacuum in the UK market. Oxford Blue was first produced in late 1994 at Harlington Creamery to a recipe based on that of Dovedale, but with substantive differences in the brining time and maturation temperature, resulting in a cheese with its own distinct identity which when well matured, developed a creamy texture and a true blue flavour.
The quality of the product and sales have stood the test of time. Despite the increased competition of more and more English blues coming on the market over the past years, Oxford Blue has retained a large and loyal following amongst the general public, caterers and independent retailers. Although not sold in any supermarkets, sales have been increasing steadily and currently stand at between four and five tonnes per month dependant on season, with increased peaks at Christmas and times of special demand such as Airline Rotas and events such as Wimbledon, Henley and just recently Cheltenham races.
In a new development, Baron Pouget has assigned his friend and cheese maker, Charles Martell, from neighbouring Gloucestershire to advise him on producing Oxford Blue in co-operation with one of the fast dwindling number of dairy farmers in Oxfordshire. “Charles is the ideal guy to help and advise me.” says Baron Pouget, “his experience as a farmer and successful cheese maker is invaluable in guiding me in this current project”. The combined pressure of unbelievably low margins, constant legislative demands and unrelenting work is driving even the most obdurate dairy farmers to consider giving it up. Production of Oxford Blue cheese on the farm, either as a partnership or under a leasing contract, will ensure the survival and profitability of an Oxford dairy farm, and allow the production of Oxford Blue to insist on the continuance and constant improvement of high animal welfare standards.