On Tuesday the #cheeseandcidercchallenge trundled gaily onwards with the sat nav leading us up an extremely narrow lane, culminating in a dead end, from which we could see - all while expertly executing a 500 point turn - a tantalising glimpse of the sign for Sandford Orchards through the trees.
Even if we hadn't spied the logo, the rich autumnal smell of fermented apples hanging in the autumnal air would have been a dead giveaway that we were nearly in the right place.
Undeterred, we found a circuitous new route that made me very happy to find that we could enjoy a cold pint in their warehouse-cum-bar at the end of it. As you can see, my darling wife felt the same.
She did cheer up somewhat when she found they had cider-inspired cocktail recipes chalked up on the walls and managed to get core ingredient - Fanny's Bramble, a blackcurrant-infused cider - for this year's famed Xmas cocktail to
inflict create for my family in Leeds. The other ingredients being fizz and vodka. I can feel the hangover now....
If there was simmering discord before we arrived at our next stop - a short drive down the road to Quickes Dairy and farm shop - locking both sets of keys, one set still tantalisingly visible on the parcel shelf, in the car was the cherry on the cheesecake.
As it so happened, on this occasion, our luck was firmly in as Cakadoodledo, based in nearby Exeter, have opened up a cafe next door. Meaning that we could enjoy this wonderful ploughman's, with Quicke's cheddar, and a slice of chocolate and blackcurrant cake all while watching out the window as a friendly repairman was breaking in to our car outside.
And, as if it couldn't get any better, the lovely ladies in the cafe gave us a slice of their incredible cheesecake topped brownie as they were celebrating their first birthday at their Quickes site.
Wednesday bought about a visit to the Totnes branch of the much lauded Country Cheeses, which was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. A huge selection of, mostly, very local cheese – there’s a map behind the counter to show you were they are produced – complemented by a smaller selection of chutney, jam, crackers and eggs, all served up by some enthusiastic fromage fanciers.
Of course, we quickly smashed our pre-agreed one cheese each limit; emerging with a Sloe Tavy - a heart-shaped cheese made specially for County Cheeses that is washed in Plymouth Sloe Gin; Devon Smoake - a naturally smoked cheese from Curworthy; Vintage Norworthy - a crumbly aged goats cheese; and Keltic promise – a Cornish (gasp) washed rind cheese for the Ewing that looked benign but made our fridge smell like my PE bag when I was in the hockey team at school.
After a successful morning our luck held with a visit to Newton Abbot to visit Ye Olde Cider Bar, one of Britain’s last remaining cider pubs. There's no beers on offer but you can order wine, if you don't mind it being made of elderberries, strawberries or rhubarb.
Clearly we were only here for one thing, although, with such a massive selection of cider (ask for the retro leather bound menu if you want tasting notes) it was hard to know where to start. After a couple of tasters I was tempted by a pint of Suicide, but as it was lunchtime on a Tuesday I thought it prudent to stick to the house cider, Sam's, pressed at Western Barn in Winkleigh.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything better in the bar snack leagues, especially their own 'ploughman’s' – consisting of a packet of crisps, a few pickled onions and chunk of cheddar. The barman, rather sweetly, even came over to check I knew exactly what I’d ordered, and wasn’t expecting something fancier, as well as giving me a chilli warning before I tucked into the onions.
Thursday was an auspicious day, as it commemorated the (nth) anniversary of my birth. To celebrate the Ewing presented me with a clothbound truckle of Quicke's Devonshire Red – their take on a Red Leicester - complete with celebratory candle, and a bottle of Sandfords ice cider, made by freezing the fermented juice to make an even sweeter, stronger drink.
While this gift would have made a magnificent breakfast, fulfilling all aspects of the challenge admirably, we were in a predictable rush - to get to Plymouth for a tour of the Gin distillery – so there was no time to enjoy my new-gotten gains.
Hence my cheese-based element for the day ended up being a breakfast of Quavers by the quayside, washed down with a double macchiato from Kaffehuis. An ever-so-slight elongation of the original rules, but it was my birthday; I’ll eat maize-based cheesy snacks and count them if I want to.
After a boozy afternoon spent enjoying several drinks including a sloe motion (Plymouth sloe gin topped with fizz), white rioja and a glass of pudding wine, I wasn’t really into the cider vibe after I stumbled back, starting on a bottle of port instead….
The Ewing - after heroically staying sober enough to safely drive me home - decided that shoving The Wilkin's cider in the freezer to make her own ice cider slushy and then drinking it out of a wine glass while watching the football would make her appear less uncouth. It may not have had quite have the desired effect, but she did look cute. I also had a few swigs to fulfil my remit for the day (birthday rules) and Harry Kane scored a last minute winner, so all in all, it was a satisfactory conclusion to proceedings.
While things had ended on a high note the day before, the following morning, despite the cloudless blue skies, painted a darker picture. It was a scene of sore heads and recriminations, where the only sensible answer was a huge plate of stinky, oozy cheese, washed down with the dregs of the port. By this point, as glorious as it all sounds, my cheese levels had reached the point of waking nightmares; hallucinating like I was in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and if only I lay my head down in the trap, the agony would soon be over.
After rousing myself enough to get out to Greenway (the doyenne of crime, Agatha Christie’s, holiday home) and spending a happy, if exhausting day under the sun, sweating fermented milk and fortified grape juice, I decided the best way to round things off was a Friday night drink at the pub. After six and a half long, gruelling days of excessive dairy consumption and afternoon-inebriation, I just needed one last drink of cider to successfully complete the challenge. Readers, I had a beer.