'You made this yourself?' My mother asked as she smeared the peppercorn-flecked, soft cheese onto an oatmeal biscuit. She bit into it and her eyes widened. 'Fantastique!' she proclaimed, slipping into her native tongue. 'It's as good as anything you get in the shops.' I felt the warmth of undeserved praise and wondered what sort of mess we'd have made without Mark to guide us. Thankfully, he had given us a course pack with instructions, one of which however, notes on how to age our drum of hard cheese, was now redundant due to an impulsive late night snack, post Shiraz.
This first review of our cheesemaking abilities was gratifying but, aware my mother's objectivity was tainted by benevolence, I put things into perspective. After all, she had pronounced all my ideas winners ever since as a ten year old I'd tried selling vintage Radio Times magazines to passing motorists. With hindsight I suspect she knew it wouldn't be a money-spinner; no car ever passed our house at less than forty miles an hour.
'We're thinking of making a cheese, Mum,' I said, rising from the lunch table. I began to clear our plates.
'Very good idea,' she said, mopping the edges of her mouth. 'Do you still have that Italian coffee, the one from Tesco?'
Pam pushed her chair back. 'I think so.' She went to the fridge and pulled out a silver packet.
'What I meant,' I continued, 'was that Pam and I are thinking of becoming cheesemakers.'
'That'll be nice.' She turned to Pam. 'Just a small cup, darling.' Pam measured a half spoon into the cafetiere.
'As a business, I mean.'
My mother folded her napkin and smoothed it on the table. She looked from one of us to the other. 'Is, is that a good idea?'
'Yes, we are going to do it alongside the tasting business.'
She let out a breath. 'Oh, that's good, at least when it... you know, at least then you'll not be relying on your cheese for income.'
'Your mother seemed unconvinced,' said Pam as we were waving at the rear of the Nissan Micra disappearing up the lane. 'We can't do this if we're not going to make money. Do you think we should get some advice?'
'We don't need to spend any money to know what Ron will say,' I said as we made our way back in.
'If not Ron, some research then. To help us decide what we're going to make.'
'I was going to talk to you about that.' I plucked a chocolate at random from the box my mother had given us.
'And maybe we need to think about where we're going to make it?'
'Yes, that too,' I said, biting into a tooth-adherent centre.
'And we need to consider who will buy our cheese when it's made.'
I scraped toffee from a molar. 'I can't stand those.'
Pam stared at me. 'We need a plan.'
'I agree,' I said and took a pad of Post-it notes from a drawer.
'Right, firstly what are we going to make?'
'I don't know, maybe we should make what people want – perhaps Cheddar? ...Then again no, there’s too much competition. Anyway, if we can't make it as good as Montgomery Cheddar, there's no point.' I wrote Cheddar onto a note, put a line through it, and pressed it onto the worktop. 'The same with blue cheese,' Pam continued. 'It would take us years to be satisfied with anything we'd make, knowing that Colston Bassett Stilton was out there.'
I nodded and scribbled blue cheese onto a second note and placed it alongside the first. 'What type of milk should we use?'
'I'm not a fan of goats, bloody nuisance things. Dad used to have one on the farm, a complete nightmare,' she said. I added a third Post-it to our line-up of rejections. 'Sheep, now they would be better, completely stupid.'
'We can't choose a style based on your fondness for the animals you grew up with,' I said, 'otherwise we'd be creating the world's first pork cheese. And that's a non-starter. Not only can't you make cheese from their milk, the name's marketing poison.'
'Not pork, pork's the meat. It would be pig cheese! She giggled.
‘Not much better, I know.’ She studied the guide to the chocolate centres. 'I suppose I'd be happy with any milk if we're not farming the livestock, but the cheese has to be something we like.'
She selected a chocolate. 'I'd like to make something smelly.'
'Very smelly?’ she said, eyebrows raised.
'Well a cheese that can get smelly with age anyway; I'd like it to have plenty of character in youth, but more subtle layers of persistent flavour that complement one another, rather than an all-out assault.'
'Careful, you're beginning to sound very wine trade.'
'So what cheeses do we like?' I said, peeling the silver foil from a diamond shaped chocolate.
'Well, Livarot of course,' said Pam. I popped the chocolate into my mouth and savoured the flavour of praline. I wrote Livarot onto one of the squares, placed a tick beside it and stuck it to the table. 'And Epoisses,' said Pam. 'The Waitrose Berthaud is fantastic, especially if left for four weeks.’
'Two weeks!' I put the suggestion next to that of Livarot. 'At four weeks it's too strong, the ammonia takes over.'
'That's what I like.'
'Well, there's Munster and Taleggio.'
I wrote both names down. 'I agree with all of those, but so far we've only one style, washed-rind.'
'Well, what other styles would you add?'
I thought for a moment. 'Well, none! I think we've found our cheese. I love the west coast of Ireland's washed-rind cheeses too, Ardrahan in particular,' I said, referring to the semi-soft, meaty flavoured cheese from County Cork.
'You wouldn't consider a Camembert style?' said Pam.
'It would be next down on my list, I suppose; but since Hampshire Cheeses are doing such a good job with Tunworth, we'd be playing catch up.'
'So which of these cheeses should we make?'
'Let's make a Purple Cow!'
Pam frowned. 'I've heard of Laughing Cow.'
'It was in a marketing book I read. A Purple Cow is something people haven't seen before. Let's take our favourite characteristics of each cheese and see if we can't create a new one that pleases us.'
'And what if it doesn't please others? Smelly cheeses are the least popular at our tastings; everyone goes for the more subtle ones.'
'Yes, but is there any point in making something that we can't get passionate about?’
'No, OK, but before we start making this wonderful new cheese in our non-existent dairy, let's find out whether anyone would buy it. How about asking Richard?'