For British Cheese Week, artisan cheese maker David Jowett has written a guest post for us. He was at the Stratford Food Festival over the weekend, so I managed to say hello before he took to the Talk and Taste theatre to discuss his love for artisan cheeses.
The British Isles has an incredibly rich cheesemaking culture, which thankfully is growing stronger all the time. The vast majority of cheese made in Britain is produced in large-scale creameries, but the past 30 years has seen a huge increase in the public’s interest in farmhouse and artisan cheese – cheeses which are often made using unpasteurised, or raw milk, and sometimes made on the farm itself. These cheeses can offer enormous depth and complexity in flavour, and rather than conforming to standardisation and uniformity, they display not just seasonal, but daily variations. The use of raw milk allows the cheese to speak of its origin, and the cheesemaker to embrace the daily variations of the raw milk, such as the grazing quality, and the point of lactation of the animals.
With farmhouse cheesemaking, there are some wonderful examples of what could be described as “terroir”. In the heart of Somerset Jamie Montgomery of Manor Farm, James Keen of Moorhaynes Farm, and Tom Calver of Westcombe Farm are producing “Somerset Artisan Cheddar”, an entitlement awarded by the Slow Food Movement to protect the authenticity of the cheese.
Some of our greatest farmhouse cheeses have been passed down the same farming families for a number of generations. Graham Kirkham makes cheese in Goosenargh, north of Preston, and was taught by his mother, Ruth, who was taught by her mother. Graham’s father looks after the cows. Three generations ago, almost every dairy farm in Lancashire made cheese, but today the Kirkhams are the only ones left making Lancashire cheese on the farm using their own milk and animal rennet.
Many of our farm-made territorial cheeses are endangered, but are hanging on to survival by a few committed producers.
In 2006 a new, raw milk blue cheese was born on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire (which is one of the main Stilton counties, along with Leicestershire and Derbyshire), and was cleverly named Stichelton – the original spelling of the town we now call Stilton. Stichelton is a partnership between cheesemaker Joe Schneider, Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy, and the Welbeck Estate. They are making a cheese using raw milk from the Estate’s organic herd, and although they can’t actually call it Stilton at present, have revived a regional cheesemaking tradition.
Throughout the UK, new cheeses are constantly being created, sometimes by existing dairy farmers looking to add value to their milk, but increasingly by a new wave of producers, who are either starting their own farms, or using milk from a nearby farm. These producers are a direct response to today’s increased interest in food, and the origins of our food. Artisan, hand-made food is enjoying a massive revival, with a wave of people setting up new businesses.
Sometimes new cheesemakers look for inspiration on the continent when deciding on a cheese to make, and we are now enjoying a raft of British takes on continental classics.
I know first hand the story of the British cheesemaker using continental cheeses as a base to create their own artisan cheese, as that is exactly what I am doing. I am building a small dairy near Stratford-upon-Avon to produce an “alpine-style” cheese. Alpine cheeses are historically produced in mountainous regions, where herds are moved up the hillsides during the summer to graze on high altitude pastures. The cheeses are large and robust out of necessity, as they would have needed to be stored in alpine chalets during summer months, before being taken down to the markets in the valleys for sale in the winter. I may not have alpine pastures to hand, but I have found a milk supply from a herd of French Montbéliarde and British Friesian cows on a local organic farm, where the cows graze under perry pear trees on ridge-and-furrow pastures which have remained unchanged for over 150 years.
So during this British Cheese Week, seek out some of the wonderful artisanal hand-made cheeses being made in the British Isles and sold by independent retailers. By doing so you’ll not only taste something beautiful, but you’ll also be supporting an alternative food system, small rural businesses, and our working rural landscape.
Then you can feel good about eating cheese! www.jowettcheese.co.uk