Have you in fact got any cheese here at all?
- The Cheese Shop Sketch, Monty Python
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
- Figs, D. H. Lawrence
Fortunately for me, a turophile in spe, The Hairy Fig is richly furnished with cheese of numerous sorts and it was here, earlier this year, I learned of the Richard III Wensleydale. I have described this cheese in some detail in previous food-related blogposts and I shall refrain from unnecessary repetition on the subject. Upon my return to York this September I was eager to revisit the shop and explore it more thoroughly, as I had taken little care to do so sufficiently during my student days.
The Hairy Fig is yet another of York's minor gems scattered throughout the city, a small food shop situated on Fossgate well-known for its fine produce. It is more than a mere cheese shop, however. The selection includes various oils, bread, sea-food and beverages, purveyed by a welcoming clientele happy to satisfy the culinary curiosity of their customers. I was first notified of its existence by a flatmate who spoke very warmly of the place and in due course, driven by curiosity, I came by to have a look myself. I was not disappointed, but I have not yet perused the selection as meticulously as I would like, not even on my return in September.
For all its splendid assortment I was first and foremost drawn to the selection of cheese, being overly pretentious in that particular department. I was aiming to bring home a small variety of what the shop could offer and accordingly I dropped by the shop after a small raid at the conveniently nearby Fossgate Bookshop and ended up with three slices of different cheeses: Richard III Wensleydale, Fountains Abbey ewe cheese and Ribbledale smoked goat cheese.
In the Middle Ages Fountains Abbey was one of the Cistercian houses in Yorkshire until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, renowned for its sheep farming as recorded by 12th century historian William of Newburgh. Today it is a World Heritage Site open for visitors and one of Yorkshire's most famous historical sites. The ewe cheese produced in its vicinity has a mild flavour suitable to its soft texture and as such differs little from cow's cheeses like norvegia or gouda. It is excellent on freshly made wholemeal bread or it can be enjoyed on its own as a light but tasty snack between meals.
Ribblesdale is one of the Yorkshire Dales known for its market towns and walks and described by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as a "sweet landscape" in his sonnet Ribblesdale. The smoked goat cheese comes from Hawes, produced by a three-person cheese maker company with its very own blog. The texture is quite creamy and a little crumbly, most easily handled in not-too-small pieces and with a pleasant sting to its taste. It is very well suited for wholemeal bread but to me it seems to be one of those cheeses that can be enjoyed when combined with almost any conceivable flavour fit for cheeses.
From left to right the above picture shows Richard III, Fountains Abbey and Ribblesdale, packed to maintain flavour and scent, suitable for journeys or long storage.