Washbourne is a firm ewes' milk cheese made using the 'washed curd' method which tends to produce cheeses which taste sweeter, and that's the case here too. It's rich, complex, slightly sweet - has a springy texture with small holes scattered through it and an attractive textured rind.
This is the latest cheese from Sharpham, based on the banks of the River Dart just south of Totnes in Devon.
The setting is stunning. Picture a huge bend in the River Dart. Look upstream and you can see the Castle and Church of Totnes nestling in the hills. Just above you is the classical facade of Sharpham House, built in 1770, and all around are fields ... and vineyards. Because the unique Sharpham Partnership, run by Mark Sharman, makes not just cheese but its own highly-rated wine.
The background to Sharpham is interesting, with connections to the Elmhirst family and their visionary / philanthropic project at nearby Dartington Hall. But that's another story. Cheesemaking here started with a brie or coulommiers style cheese, naturally named 'Sharpham' - and this is still a mainstay of the dairy. Nowadays a number of dairies make this type of cheese, so it's a shock to realise that when Sharpham was first made - in the 1970s - it was really out there on its own.
Elmhirst (I always describe it as luxurious, a description no-one's ever argued with!) was a natural development. It's soft with the same downy white rind, and based on their own rich Jersey milk, but has double cream added.
Added to that are two 'orphans', originally made by neighbouring maker Robin 'Beenleigh' Congdon, but passed onto Sharpham when he decided to focus purely on blue cheeses. Sharpham Rustic - available plain or with garlic and chives - is a special one for me as it's one of the cheeses that originally got me into this whole thing. Discussing it with Mark and chief cheesemaker Debbie Mumford (who started out with Robin C), we agreed that it really is a very special thing. If a customer asked not for Rustic but 'something like it' I'd be at a loss! Finally there's the goats' milk Ticklemore, made much the same way as Rustic and with the same flying-saucer shape (which comes from the colanders they make it in).