Alex James: Let's hear it for the cheese supergroup

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

"Phhhh. My dad had a railway arch, but that was in Bermondsey," I said. "We're in Bermondsey now, actually," he said gently, and it struck me that I had said something quite ridiculous. That was obviously where we were – we were just under an arch in Bermondsey. And you couldn't have had it more Bermondsey: half car park, half motorway backstreet: lock-ups, and vans everywhere. Likely-looking boozer opposite, blocks of flats and warehouses. I felt rather foolish, but then I'd floated off a little and was having trouble keeping my mind's fingers round the narrative.

The arch in question was one of half a dozen belonging to Neal's Yard Dairy, and a kind of Fort Knox repository for the national cheese collection.

Randolph Hodgson, the proprietor, had been showing me round endless cavernous rooms containing nothing but vast amounts of the stuff, all the best stuff. He was wielding his cheese iron – a kind of spanner for extracting cheese from maturing rounds without spoiling them – and we'd been nibbling on a few of his favourites.

He has one cheddar that was made by Jamie Montgomery, Tom Calver from Westcombe, one of the Quicke family and also a Keen. Probably the four greatest cheddar makers in the world: a sort of cheese supergroup. "It's only a year old," he said, apologising, but my word, it tasted good already.

I was paying Randolph a visit because it looks like we might be able to buy the milk that comes out of Highgrove and turn it into the world's poshest cheese. Now we were sitting in his office, wondering what this royal cheese should look like. "I think it should be small and smelly and cost three quid. Maybe it should be on fire when you eat it?" I'd brought a bag of small, smelly cheeses with me and we were nibbling on them and pondering. That was when I forgot where I was. Easily done.

In praise of roses in the rain

My first attempt at a rose garden was a disaster. Last year one end was waterlogged and the other was a desert. Then the rabbits finished them off. But I wasn't going to be beaten. I've fenced it, as well as put in drains and a watering system from the well nearby.

Initially, I was disappointed about the weather at the weekend, but wandering among the roses in a fine mist of drizzle on Saturday, the grey skies framing their ringing colours, I realised that they look their best in the rain, English roses.

Deep well of love

We needed a good soaking, really. I use the well in the back garden to water the vegetables too, and the water level had dropped about 20ft over the hot spell.

No one is certain how deep that well is or where the water comes from. It's right next to the cellar, and way, way deeper. I only found it by accident when we took up the patio. I think about that well as I fall asleep each night. Now my well is full again. It's a good feeling. Let it rain.