The fleeting season and brief shelf life of the Lyth Valley damson has always compelled fans of the sweet-sour fruit to reach for the preserving pan. There are plenty of excellent jams and chutneys made with damsons, but at Hawkshead Relish, Mark Whitehead has captured the flavour and colour of the fruit in a damson ‘cheese’—which isn’t a cheese as we’ve come to know it, but more like a jelly to be sliced and served with cold meats and cheese. This truly British version of the Spanish quince paste, membrillo, is set with gelatine rather than being ruthlessly reduced in the original tradition of fruit cheeses, retaining the vivid purple colour of the damsons.
What’s the story?
Mark Whitehead, from Hawkshead Relish, has a very specific kind of bedtime reading. “Other people go to bed and read bodice rippers, and I read about food and the history of food. That’s my thing,” he says. These evocative histories inspired the creation of a new version of the traditional damson jelly. “It’s a cross between a confection and a sweetmeat and harks back to Victorian times and the turn of the century. Imagine decadence, opulence…and something nice and rich to go with your cheese!”
Mark develops products in a 16th century cruck barn just south of Hawkshead village and had a particular purpose in mind for the damson cheese. “We blended this to go with cheese and particularly hard cheeses like tasty Lancashire. We’ve done the formulation so that it’s not too sweet, you get the full depth of the damsons coming through. It goes really well with Booths’ tasty Lancashire. The sweet and sour in the cheese is complemented by the sweet and sour in the damson flavour.” Notoriously fiddly to prepare and more stone than fruit, the Lyth Valley damsons he uses have been on a little detour between the valley and Hawkshead. “We send them away to get stoned, if you’ll pardon the expression.”