My first year started with my two decidedly odd originators – I would call them parents, but that would sound weird, because I’m a cheese and, well, they’re not and they might find my human reference saccharine sweet – on a Normandy hillside staring at cows. For most of the folk of Haslemere (the Surrey town I’m being brought up in) France is summer on the Cote d’Azure or a winter week in Val d’Isere, but the attractions of hot sand or the crunch of snow under skis seem to hold little attraction for Pam and Francis, for it’s their stomachs that determine their holiday destinations. I bet the children love that.
Anyone seeing them talking to the cheesemakers of Livarot or Pont l’Eveque would have sensed that something earnest was in the air, but it wasn’t until early December 2013, that they did more than just talk about making cheese at home. A one-day cheese making course at The High Weald Dairy in West Sussex with Sarah and Mark Hardy, sparked the touchpaper, or began to set the curd if you prefer a dairy based analogy, and the creative flame burst beneath the cheese vat of possibilities… if you like your analogies tortured.
Between the course and Christmas their phones were rarely anywhere but at their ears, calling English cheese makers, mongers, writers, consultants and anyone else who could offer them advice on how to go about making cheese commercially, to go with their wine tasting business. The message was unambiguous: you don’t make cheese if you want to make money; there are too many barriers at every stage, from costs of production to the rigours of health and safety legislation. It was clear that it would be folly to pit their time and money against such a challenge. But to them this was as clear as the whey of reason draining from the cheese mould of sanity, so in early 2014, they attended a further two cheese making courses at the School of Artisan Food, visited more cheesemakers, found a friendly farmer with some lovely Jersey cows – the Brigitte Bardots of the bovine world – and built a trial dairy.
Anyone watching the pair make their first cheese on that warm June afternoon would have sat them down and firmly counselled them to cut their losses. ‘You’ve had your fun, now move on and go back to what makes you money,’ their business consultant would have implored. ‘The cheese moulds can be used as plant pots and you can store all sorts of things in the dairy if you empty it.’ But as they stopped using his services a few years back, thoughts of giving up were furthest from their minds as they stared lovingly at their creations – produce that would only garner praise from a mother picking up her child after a nursery cookery class. Thankfully, Paul Thomas, their cheese making consultant at Thimble Cheese, offered plenty of advice and encouragement, and the subsequent trials through the autumn, saw my recipe tweaked to a point where I’m pretty much fully formed and subsequent trials will be to ensure I’m consistent. I like to think of it as I’m perfect and it’s they who need to make sure they are consistent with me.
I’d describe myself as English with a little French DNA. I’m pretty unique - well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But I haven’t yet met a kinsman. I’m of smallish build with a pinky-orange complexion, ‘bashful apricot’ someone called it, and though firm on first encounter, I’m quite soft on the inside. Some people are put off by my smell. I know some other cheeses go to great lengths to deodorise, but my pungency is one of my best features to those who have come to like me. Actually, the smell is a bit of a front as I taste creamy and nutty once you’re beyond the truffle and gamey aromas. Anyway, enough of the lonely hearts column. That’s how things stand with one foot into my second year; a year which promises the building of a proper home for me, my exams with the Environmental Health Office and my eventual release to the market – or whatever you like to call it. It sounds as if I’m a captive. I’d rather consider myself a sort of sheltered debutante, soon to be presented to my audience.
On that note, I’d properly introduce myself if I could, but for now I’m the cheese with no name. Pam and Francis seem to be happy with that, but if you’d like to give them some inspiration it might stop them referring to me as ‘the cheese.’