Ready for tikka masala cheese? Alex James hopes so...
Saturday 20 August 2011
There's a stink in the cheese world, and it smells unedifyingly of chicken tikka masala.
The Blur bassist Alex James, formerly a darling of the dairy community as a past winner at the British Cheese Awards, has astonished food critics by launching a supermarket range aimed at the family market, with flavours including curry, tomato ketchup and sweet chilli.
It's a far cry from Little Wallop, his goat's cheese wrapped in vine leaf and washed in Somerset cider brandy, which was a winner with judges in 2008. Even the cheesemaker who created it with him has been left struggling for words.
Juliet Harbutt, an expert in the field and the founder of the British Cheese Awards, did her diplomatic best to contain her distaste at the prospect.
"It's a bit tricky because Alex and I have made cheese together in the past – but nothing like this lot," she said. "There's so much potential for fabulous cheeses that I was surprised Alex decided to go down this route.
"With flavoured cheeses, you've got the good the bad and ugly, and I think it's a real shame that a range of cheeses created for children is so dumbed down. Children have great palettes and they love interesting cheese, and I don't think you need to dumb them down."
But Jeremy Bowen of the high-end artisan cheese sellers Paxton and Whitfield was supportive of the Alex James Presents line, which will be available solely at Asda from Monday. "Alex has gone for these hot-damn funky cheese slices that you can put in a sarnie or a toastie or a jacket potato, and I suppose I'm thinking: why the hell not? What Alex is trying to do is just reach people, and that means everybody out there," he said.
"They are cheeky price points, they are yummy, they are not difficult to understand. He wants to introduce the great and the good and the unwashed to cheese. He's offering a pick and mix, grab and go collection."
The man himself is apparently unabashed. "I'm hugely passionate about this range and I'm so excited that I've been able to bring it to life," James gushed in the press release. "Seeing it stocked in Asda will give me a big kick.
"Asda were the natural choice for me to work with on this project. They've believed in my vision for the range and I've welcomed their expertise in cheesemaking, their confidence in this product and willingness to bring something cutting edge and truly innovative to the market. It's definitely cheese, but not as the nation knows it."
The verdict of 'The Independent' newsroom
The curry flavour was the most divisive. One taster came back for seconds, but another noted that cheese "is not supposed to do that to the back of your throat". Another said: "It would be OK in a burger but straight on the rocks it's not that good."
Tomato Ketchup Blankets
Summed up as "the cheese equivalent of spam, flecked with fat", this "cheap and nasty" variety led one taster to not even countenance it on a quarterpounder. "I'd be so angry. I'd probably cry actually. If someone ruins a burger I get so upset."
One foodie said generously that it had "quite a nice kick to it", but that was as good as it got. "Texture wise it's not that bad, but it's just wrong," said another, who blamed "the combination of the bland and the aggressive".
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