A cheese by any other name – Red Dragon or Y-Fenni

I have been a bit of a mustard connoisseur for some time. When I was a wee lad, my parents had friends who had a whole range of weird mustards. My folks were hardcore Coleman’s Hot Mustard types, and while good, it wasn’t nearly as exotic as Russian or French mustard. Hey, it was the 1970s in England — exotic was relative. So, I was intrigued when I spotted this little delight in the local cheese shop.

In Canada, this cheese is known as Red Dragon. In the UK it goes under the name Y-Fenni, but with Welsh speakers a little thin on the ground in Canada, this cheese gets the reference to the Welsh flag.

Named after the town in which it is made, Y-Fenni (the Welsh name for Abergavenny). this cheese is obviously inspired by the famous regional dish, Welsh Rarebit. The ingredients for that delicious snack are beer, cheese, mustard – all appear in Red Dragon.

The cheese is a form of cheddar made with pasteurized cow’s milk which is then mixed with Welsh ale and a grainy mustard. The molds are then wrapped in wax. In the UK, Y-Fenni is wrapped in a pale yellow wax while in Canada it is red – which gives it an Edam look.

But Edam it ain’t.  I was eagerly waiting to taste this cheese and my expectation was completely met. The cheese is rich and creamy, but the real joy is the explosion of mustard flavour. Those mustard seeds burst in the mouth. But strangely, it isn’t overpowering. The flavour and texture make this cheese unique. The beer flavour isn’t pronounced either. But just as you can enhance the flavour of wine with complementary food, I found having a beer with this cheese certainly brought out the hint of ale.

My first go around of this cheese was just to eat on its own, which was great. But the second time I melted it on some toast and it was clearly what this was meant for. It melts easily and smoothly and doesn’t have that oily, clumpy feel of some regular cheddars. I have not tried this, but I imagine this would be great to melt onto a burger.

On thing about this cheese is that smaller wedges goes south pretty quickly, so I would consume within a week or even a few days of purchase.

The traditional Welsh cheese industry was pretty much decimated in the Second World War, as almost all milk was siphoned off to wartime cheddar production. After the war, the large cheese making factories in England crowded out the smaller competitors. Even that most famous of Welsh cheeses, Caerphilly, almost completely disappeared. But as consumers began to seek out better cheeses and were willing to pay for organic or at least more authentic cheeses, artisan producers began to reappear and the Welsh industry is now going through a renaissance of sorts.

So what to have, drink wise, with Red Dragon/Y-Fenni? Well, it’s a beer type cheese and a good brown ale goes very well with this. I have tried both Lancaster Bomber from the UK and Sleeman’s Honey Brown from Canada and both are very good. If you must go for wine, the a solid, heavier Zin from California would be my choice.

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