Last year I had a huge slice of luck: before I had really considered making anything other than quince cheese I stumbled across some local damson trees heavily laden with fruit. As it was clear that the crop was just going to waste I determined to try my hand at a traditional damson cheese. The result was such a hit that the first block I supplied to Wildes for Alexandra Palace farmers market sold out in half an hour. Unsurprisingly they have been asking when the next damson cheese would be appearing ever since!
Anyway, as life is rarely simple, the trees which had supplied me so handsomely last year decided they were overdue a holiday. The entire crop of fruit would have fitted in an egg cup. Biennial bearing is common amongst some types of fruit trees and damsons are no exception, although a poor crop can be just as much to do with weather and soil conditions. Either way, after much asking around it became clear that it had generally been a bad year for them (although whether just in my local area or more widely I don’t know) but amazingly, just as I had resigned myself to a damson-less 2015, I was delighted to get two offers in quick succession and damson cheese was back on the menu.
Damsons are a type of small plum originating in Damascus, Syria (the name is thought to be derived from “Damascene plum”). They have an intense, sharp flavour and produce a dramatic-looking fruit cheese, so dark as to be almost black. Although they can be eaten fresh when fully ripe they tend to be used for cooking.
There is a strong tradition of growing this fruit in the north of England, especially Cumbria and Shropshire where orchards of them used to be widespread. This is no doubt due at least partly to the fact that they are particularly hardy and able to tolerate higher rainfall and less sunshine than many other types of plum.
Daiv Sizer has written a great little guide to these lovely fruits here
And for information on plums generally, check out this guide from Orange Pippins fruit tree nursery