Anyone who has had the misfortune to know me for longer than 3 weeks will know that I used to work in Selfridges in the Trafford Centre when I was at University.
Although I tend to go on about it a bit too much, the reason that I do is because at the time it allowed me to meet loads of people, many of whom have gone on to do some pretty great things.
There was ‘Peanut’ who is now a sports agent to some of the world’s biggest stars, Alex Hill who went on to own and run Another Heart To Feed before moving to Australia with his family and Stacey Mason who ended up on Shipwrecked – parading around in her bikini on a deserted island every week on T4.
Best of all though must be Jonathan Pearcey, someone who I’d not seen for around 12 years and who was a very welcome surprise when I walked into the Dakota Hotel to meet Manchester’s very own ‘Cheese Man’.
Initially confused and a little taken aback, my scramble was quickly dissipated with a strong hug and a chat about how he went from flogging fashions to supplying the city’s best restaurants with cheese.
His story is a rather simple one; going from Selfridges to Booths as Store Manager, ending up enthusiastically training up the staff on the deli counters with as much cheese-orientated vigour as he could muster.
He must have been doing something right because he then moved to Butlers Farmhouse, famed for their fantastic Blacksticks Blue cheese – something that Jonathan quickly got his hands dirty (not literally) helping to make.
One could say that his love of cheese was cemented right there with Butlers, and it’s something that’s never truly left him.
After a brief 2 year stint on this own street food venture; JP’s Food Truck specialising in Italian food but with local, northern ingredients, serving up dishes like ‘Blacksticks Blue Tagliatelle‘ and ‘Kidderston Ash Goats Cheese Brushetta‘, he started at The Cheese Larder – a company that offers up high-end, artisanal cheeses to hotels and restaurants around the North West.
They’ve got over 200 cheeses on their packed roster, some of which Jonathan has had a hand in making, and surprisingly – all of which are firmly planted in his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things cheese.
I’m sure he wouldn’t be so modest as to declare himself the city’s most knowledgeable man when it comes to cheese – so I’ll give him that title myself.
As we sat down and explored the 9 different cheeses on Dakota’s impressive ‘Cheese Trolley‘, I find it hard to imagine anyone else knowing so much or being so enthusiastic about the stuff.
When asked about the Cheese Trolley, he’s keen to highlight how all of the cheeses on it are sourced from within 1.5 hours from the city, unless there’s one that is in ‘season’ and therefore is a MUST for any cheese board.
Yep, that’s right – cheese can have seasons and this is further confirmed with the addition of the brilliant ‘Stinking Bishop‘ to the trolley, alongside a rather impressive Crofton Cheese that’s a 2:1 ratio of cow and goat’s milk.
Stinking Bishop, for anyone who has yet to try it, actually does stink – but it’s also a beautiful cheese made from the milk of a very rare breed of Gloucester cow. As mentioned, the reason it’s on the trolley is because at this time of year it’s especially excellent – benefitting from the higher fat content of the cows grazing in the summertime – providing a creamier, richer and ultimately tastier cheese for all.
Similarly, the Crofton Cheese goes through many, many changes throughout the year and the levels of fat changes in the two different breeds’ cheeses. Therefore, you’re guaranteed a completely different cheese at different times of the year depending on how the two cheeses interact and work with each other.
This ‘seasonality’ brings us onto Christmas – mostly because that’s my prime cheese-eating period in the year.
Jonathan eloquently explains that this is why Stilton is seemingly so popular around December – because the cheese we’re eating now is made using the richer and creamier milk of cows from the end of Summer. That’s why it tastes so damn good after a massive Turkey Dinner!
As we discussed the varied cheeses on the trolley it was clear that an exceptional amount of thought has gone into the curation of it. It’s not just a case of slapping down a few cheddars and some Babybel – each cheese aims to appeal to different tastes but also complement each other at the same time.
The idea is that the trolley is an ‘experience’ – providing guests with something they’ve never seen or tasted before.
Jonathan is also keen to tell me all about the many stories and tales of the people making these cheeses; independent farmers who are pushing the boundaries of cheesemaking and helping put British cheese right at the top of anything else available anywhere in the world.
There’s the Shipston Blue Cave Matured Blue Veined Buffalo Milk Cheese from up near Preston who have a herd of 22 buffalo and have built their own ‘cave’ with a buried shipping container to help maintain the cheese at the perfect temperature.
There’s the Noblets of Cumbria who have created a very traditional Wensleydale with their Fellstone cheese – something that’s as far removed from the crumbly and fruity offering you get in supermarkets as you can imagine. Based on an old ‘dales’ recipe for Wensleydale it’s aged for 3 months and is firmer and much tastier than its mass-produced cousin.
And then there’s Oakenclough, a cheese which Jonathan has had a direct hand in producing and one that hopes to prove that smoked cheese doesn’t always have to be cheap (and nasty). A Lancashire-made Brie style cheese, Jonathan sends it off to get smoked over Lancashire oak for 3 hours, creating a stunning cheese that actually ends up tasting a lot like bacon!
What I took away from our reunion is that not only is Jonathan probably the foremost voice when it comes to cheese in the city – he’s also probably the most passionate.
The Cheese Trolley at Dakota, as well as at the other venues in the city that he supplies, provides a ‘canvas’ in which to create the ultimate cheese experience – one full of colour, texture, flavours and above all – theatre.
I sincerely doubt it’s going to be another 12 years until I see Jonathan again, in fact – with the rate in which I’m blasting through cheese this Christmas – I envision a re-union very soon again indeed.
Oh yeah and one final thing. What should you be drinking with you cheese this Christmas? Well, there’s always Port, there’s even some fantastic White Ports too, but Jonathan recommends Madeira, especially with something that’s strong and salty. There you go – straight out of the expert’s mouth.
For more information on Jonathan and the team at The Cheese Larder – head here.
The Cheese Trolley at Dakota
Available every day at The Dakota Grill