THE nation's finest cheesemakers congregated in Somerset for the annual British Cheese Awards on Friday, March 22.

Over 640 cheeses underwent a rigorous judging process throughout the day ahead of the Food and Drink Festival at the Bath and West Showground, near Shepton Mallet, on Saturday and Sunday.

The results of the awards were unveiled at an awards dinner on Friday evening, and members of the public will be able to view the winning cheeses at this weekend's festival.

One cheesemaker from North Cadbury, near Sparkford in Somerset, entered two of his cheeses into the competition.

Jamie Montgomery runs Montgomery's Cheese, a family business which has been supplying high quality cheddar cheese since 1911, when it was founded by his grandfather.South West Farmer: A block of Montgomery's Cheddar.A block of Montgomery's Cheddar. (Image: Jamie Grover, Newsquest)

Jamie said some of his earliest childhood memories involve trying cheese made by his grandparents, and now owns two herds of cows responsible for producing milk for his award winning cheeses.

"We're probably one of the most traditional makers, with our own milk," he said.

He explained how he believes his land is of a good standard which helps to make the cheese as tasty as possible.

Montgomery's Cheddar was named champion of the British Cheese Awards in 2006, and after trying both the cheddar and ogleshield (made with jersey milk), I personally would not be surprised if either was named this year's overall winner.

In fact, Montgomery's has recently penned a deal to be sold in selected Waitrose stores across the south west.

In charge of the results was a total of 62 judges, made up of experts and respected figures in the British cheese industry.

Nick Bayne, from the Fine Cheese Co cheesemongers in Bath, said it was a privilege to be part of the judging process for the fourth time.South West Farmer: Nick Bayne, from the Fine Cheese Co, who was a judge at the awards.Nick Bayne, from the Fine Cheese Co, who was a judge at the awards. (Image: Jamie Grover, Newsquest)

He explained the judges look for three criteria in the perfect cheese: external and internal appearance, texture in both the hands and mouth, and aroma and flavour.

"We're looking for positives and any potential defects," Nick said.

"Something that makes us want to go back for more, an inviting aroma that catches you."

 In previous years, the British Cheese Awards has been part of the annual Bath and West Show, but this year it's part of the first ever Food and Drink Festival.

Although from his own perspective, Nick will miss 'drinking cider and looking at owls' whilst judging, he is happy the awards is now being given the recognition it deserves.South West Farmer: Julius Longman, Chairman of the British Cheese Awards.Julius Longman, Chairman of the British Cheese Awards. (Image: Jamie Grover, Newsquest)

Julius Longman, Chairman of the British Cheese Awards, played a key role in pushing for the bigger stage.

"We wanted it to get recognised again," he said.

"It'll be great to have as much support locally and further afield as we can get.

"The great thing about it is we will have trade stands with free tasting of cheeses, celebrity chefs, and kids are extremely welcome."