Graham and Jo Townsend's Vulscombe goats' cheese is subtle, beautifully presented and comes in several varieties. There's plain, one with black peppercorns, one with herbs and garlic, and one with herbs and sun-dried tomatoes. Graham's keen to point out that the herbs - which vary with the seasons - are freshly picked from their own garden.
All of the above come as a 170g round. There's also a 250g log-shaped version which chefs find especially useful.
Vegetarian / Pasteurised
In 1982, Oxford-trained mathematician Graham Townsend and his wife Jo arrived at ramshackle Vulscombe Farm with three children, a goat, a thousand pounds and a wheelbarrow. And one other thing: at their previous home, in Sussex, Jo had come up with a recipe for a soft goat's cheese. They took some with them on an outing to see Fidelio at Glyndebourne and the concensus was that it was rather good.
Settling in to the farm, they began the slow business of developing the cheese, building up a herd ... and trying to make a living. At that time 'artisan' or 'farmhouse' cheese makers were few and far between. Graham and Jo, however, were confident they'd hit on something pretty special in their Vulscombe, and kept plugging away, whilst Graham kept one foot in the maths world. Validation came from Paxton & Whitfield - who were soon buying lots - and gradually production and the herd grew, with the 'family workforce' fully employed.
Vulscombe is made using what Graham calls the 'acid curd process'. The key thing is, there's no rennet, or even rennet
subsititute, involved (rennet's the thing used in most cheese to thicken the milk into curd). Graham's cheese however, uses a special set of starter bacteria and a process of slow coagulation, with a crucial 48hrs warm incubating in something a bit like an airing cupboard.
The process is labour intensive and slow (6-7 days) but when it ends the cheese is ready to eat with no more maturing required. The method was apparently widespread, at one time: farms used it to make cheese for their own consumption. But it's rare now, with only 2 or 3 other makers using it commercially. As a result, though, Vulscombe really is different, and I certainly can't think of another cheese you could substitute for it. For me it's especially the texture; Graham agrees, adding that taste-wise it's one of the least 'goaty' goats cheeses around.
Things change - they gave up the herd in '97, and as a consequence started to pasteurise, which called for adjustments to the recipe, but Graham says the 70,000 cheeses they now make annually are as good as they've ever been.