Many of the presents I give come in a bottle, but lately, uniquely, they have all been exactly the same. It has not been down to a lack of imagination, rather that the excitement of discovering Black Cow vodka (from £23.85 for 50cl) has been such that I feel compelled to share its virtues. And – as so often happens when you have found something new – I now keep discovering that I am late to the party. Going over for lunch with friends, I found Alex, the king of Bloody Marys, mixing up a mean concoction with exactly that vodka (his secret is the addition of Clamato). When I stayed at the lovely Grosvenor Arms in Shaftesbury a few weeks ago, what did I spot in their cosy bar but the recognisable milk-bottle-shaped Black Cow vodka.
Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise, as this particular spirit is made not in the wilds of Russia but in the gentler climes of Dorset, and its style of bottle is a clue to the astonishing fact that it is made with pure milk. The man behind it is West Dorset farmer Jason Barber, who wanted to diversify the produce from his 250-strong dairy herd, and who had heard about the Tuva, a nomadic tribe from Siberia who have long made vodka from fermented mare’s milk. Having a personal interest in vodka and plenty of milk on hand, he decided to experiment.
The curds and whey are separated, and the latter is fermented into a beer using special yeast that converts milk sugar into alcohol. This milk beer is then distilled and, after a secret blending process, triple-filtered and finished before being hand-bottled.
But the real question is: what does it taste like? The answer is: beautifully smooth. I was lucky enough to try some seriously good vodkas in Russia a few months ago, and Black Cow would have held its own among the famous names of Beluga, Kauffman et al – the difference perhaps being that Black Cow has a creamier finish and less of that catch-in-your-throat burn after you have knocked it back. The bottle is a beauty in itself. Called The Gold Top (an obvious reference to its milky origins), it does indeed have a gold-coloured lid, and one of the grass-grazed cows that we owe thanks to is kicking up its heels on the clear glass, between the words “pure milk vodka” and “Made in West Dorset, England”.
I have since learnt that the Barber’s 1833 cheddar, winner of the World Cheese Awards Cheddar Trophy 2012, is what is made from the curds of this multitalented milk. I am yet to try it, but when I do I will report back…