Leicestershire’s Sparkenhoe cheese

Two years ago, Jo and David Clarke were plain dairy farmers then they started to make cheese after only a two-day course at Reaseheath College, Nantwich. This year, they won the James Aldridge Memorial Trophy for the Best British Raw Milk Cheese (an award voted for by other cheesemakers), and went to Italy to take part in the Slow Food Cheese Festival. ‘Dairy farmers don’t live like this,’ Jo told her husband as they drove around Bra.Sparkenhoe, an artisanal, unpasteurised, cloth-bound Red Leicester cheese, is made in 20kg?40kg wheels, and is the only Red Leicester actually made in the countynear Market Bosworth.

The milk comes from 150 Holstein-Friesian cows with names such as Greeta and Hyasinth (sic). However, the Clarkes have a problem with Red Leicester’s image. ‘Our butcher suggested we make it and I said no it’s revolting. But he told us it used to be fantastic, but you can’t find it any more. So we have to re-educate people that it’s not that plastic red stuff. When we sell at farmers’ markets, people walk past, and we say: ‘Please, please, just try a bit.’ They do, then walk away and stop, turn around and come back for more.’

Sparkenhoe, which is named after their farm, is coloured with natural annatto dye, probably, traditionally, to make it stand out from white cheeses such as Cheddar. It’s matured for five months, and has a nutty flavour with a citric aftertaste. ‘It’s fantastic melted,’ says Mrs Clarke.

‘I love it on toast, with some raw onion and tomato slices piled on top, then everything grilled. It’s good for cheese sauce, too.’You can buy Sparkenhoe from Waitrose (0800 188 884; www.waitrose.com) and Neal’s Yard Dairy (020?7240 5700; www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk), where it’s the fifth best seller. Or check out stockists at www.leicestershirecheese.co.uk. Jo and David Clarke are on 01455 213863.