I grew up on what we called ‘cheese singles’: individual, plastic-wrapped, plastic-flavoured appropriations of cheddar that I absolutely adored. Packed lunches to school were always either a cheese single between two slices of white bread, or jam sandwiches. I was obviously a child of little variety, and when I say child I do mean Sixth Former.
Cue me moving to England where all people seem to do is talk about the weather and about cheese, and sometimes cheese in relation to the weather and I felt totally at sea because a) I don’t come from a place that has seasons, and b) I’d only ever eaten plastic cheese, and thought that’s all there was to it. My encounters with ‘real cheese’ had been few and far between, but off the back of a friend’s recent 21st with an abundance of different varieties, and a recommendation of Sainsbury’s Basics Mozzarella (who knew it was so white and soft when not infinitely processed and grated?) I set out to learn about this weird British dairy cult.
Alas, with my less refined palate, I went for quite standard cheeses. Mention Pecorino to me, and I’ll still look at you blankly. I explored the Basics range because I’m a cheese novice, and also because I’m a student.
I fell in love with the texture of Basics Mozzarella. It is a giant white ball for 50p, what more could you want? When you cut it, it strings wonderfully and would go really well in a salad with some tomatoes, a brief hark back to sunshine when the wind didn’t threaten to blow you off your bike. (See, the conversion process is already happening, I’m talking about cheese in relation to the weather.)
Next, was the 75p ‘Greek style salad cheese’, which I think is meant to be Feta. It was appropriately salty, and by that I mean the salt content is in red on the front of the packaging. The texture is gross. It’s not creamy or soft as my few prior experiences of Feta have been. Rather it is hard and too much of it will make you feel as if you’ve drunk a load of ocean.
I then tried the Cheddar. In this case, Sainsbury’s was somehow out of stock of Basics Cheddar at 11am, which suggests it’s either deeply popular or unpopular, so I ended up getting a Basics ‘Cheese Selection’ which comes for £3 and has 4 cheeses in it; Cheddar, Double Gloucester with spring onion and chive, Wensleydale with cranberries, and Red Leicester.
The Cheddar was kind of soggy, with a moderate sharpness and slight bitterness in its taste. The aftertaste lingered on the tongue in way that at first was unpleasant, but which got more pleasant the more you ate. I would say it’s worth buying a large block of this and using it to make cheese toasties in your microwave (top tip: put olive oil on your bread before you melt the cheese, it’s scrummy). In terms of the others in the pack: the Double Gloucester was oddly crumbly and sort of tasted like feet, the Wensleydale was lovely and sweet because of the fruit, and the Red Leicester was disconcertingly orange and sticky.
In well and truly losing my cheese virginity, I don’t think my appreciation for the product has really increased. I may stick to my cheese singles, and occasionally purchase the Basics Mozzarella. However, I think for people who can and do appreciate cheese, the Basics range is affordable and accessible. My primary criticism is that the cheeses become difficult to store, but I guess you get what you pay for. You’ll need to invest in your own Ziploc bags, or eat all that cheese in a single sitting.
Basics Mozzarella: 8/10. Supple, soft, and scrumptious for a tiny price tag.
Basics ‘Greek style salad cheese’: 2/10. The name makes me laugh, but the taste makes me ill.
Basics Cheese Selection: 5/10. It’s expensive and the cheeses aren’t as fun as you think they’ll be.