Wedginald, the cult cheese, finally gets its big taste test
Thursday 20 September 2007
Wedginald is no ordinary reality TV star. Since birth, every millisecond of his life has been broadcast live on internet television, with 1.5 million people logging on to chart his progress.
At just nine months old, the West Country celebrity has sparked a flurry of online fan groups, not to mention fan mail from across the world. But the notorious Wedginald is no precocious child star. It is a rather large block of cheese.
When it emerged from the churn nine months ago, the handmade round of farmhouse Cheddar was given its own web television station, cheddarvision, which constantly streamed its image from a shelf at Westcombe Dairy in Somerset. Like many internet phenomena, the popularity of cheddarvision has largely been down to its pointlessness.
But yesterday visits to the site peaked, as some action was finally promised. Enthusiasts logged on to see Tom Calmer, its creator, take a nine-month sample from the round, a crucial test in determining its quality.
This late stage in the maturing process is make or break for a West Country Farmhouse Cheddar. Woe betide the cheese that has not matured correctly; this can result in anything from blue mould to a rather nasty rotten egg smell. But if successful, there is only a three-month wait before the cheese can be taken from its shelf in the Somerset dairy and put up for auction.
So how did the world's first celebrity cheese fare in its final taste test? If you believe the hype, not only did it do very well, but it is an outstanding example of dairy brilliance. Like wine-tasters, cheesemakers have a language all of their own to distinguish their creations from their plastic-wrapped ugly sisters.
A spokesperson for the cheese described it as having "a caramel nose, a sweet twiggy greenness and a creamy good length of flavour". Mr Calmer called it "lemony, with a certain "spritziness".
But there is a serious message to what could otherwise be the world's most pointless live broadcast. Mr Calmer, who thought up the project, wanted to put people back in touch with where their food comes from, and show the public how painstaking the process of maturing a "proper" cheddar can be.
Every year Britons consume 360,000 tonnes of Cheddar, but only 15,000 tonnes of that are what Mr Calmer would call "the real thing" – West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.
The 25-year-old dairy farmer said: "I got frustrated by the detachment people have from their food now. Some people don't even know that a carrot comes from the ground. This is our way of educating the consumer about just how long it takes to mature a cheese. Some varieties take 18 months, it's a real labour of love."
But the runaway success of the website has surprised even Mr Calmer. Cynics said it would be the most boring thing ever broadcast, and that watching paint dry would be better, yet thousands of online enthusiasts have flocked to the site every day. He said: "I couldn't believe it. One and a half million people for a piece of cheese? What? It's been really incredible. Now I get jealous – the cheese got a Valentine's card this year and I didn't. How is that fair?"
Hits on the Web
* The Hamster Dance
Simple animations of furry rodents that became so popular they spawned a band and an album release.
* The Trojan Room Coffee Pot
Staff in a computer lab just wanted to keep watch on their coffee in 1991. So, they set up a camera to keep an eye. The pot became a webcam sensation and sold for £3,350.
A religion that was born online. Thousands now follow the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" – cooked up to counter those who were pushing Intelligent Design in schools.
* The Star Wars Kid
One of the Web's most viewed videos. A 2002 film of a boy brandishing a golf ball container tube as if it were a light-sabre.
Pictures of cats with humorous captions attached, often written in "Netspeak", have become an internet favourite thanks to the lolcats site.
* The Dancing Baby
Surfers flocked to an animation of a dancing baby after it appeared in 1997. It made its way on to an episode of Ally McBeal.
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