– For those who may not know much about you, breifly tell us all about yourself and where your love for food came from.
Having been brought up in Stratford, I feel a strong connection to the town and surrounding countryside. For as long as I can remember, I have been very directly engaged with food – with where it comes from, and how to prepare and cook it. Whether I was beating on a local shoot, fishing, raising chickens and ducks for eggs and meat, foraging wild mushrooms or collecting blackberries, I was always thinking of eating! I left school at 16 and studied professional catering at Stratford college, having set my mind on becoming a chef. I worked in a small but busy restaurant kitchen and although I absolutely loved it, I began to realise that working in a kitchen long-term wasn’t for me. I think deep down I felt a bit disconnected from food, although I was obviously working with it all the time, I wasn’t involved in the primary production of it and I became aware that was where I wanted to be. At the same time, I was working at Paxton and Whitfield cheesemongers, and was becoming increasingly drawn into the world of cheese. I began visiting cheesemakers to see what they were doing, fascinated both by farming and the cheesemaking process. I took a 6 week work experience placement at Ram Hall Farm, where I helped to make the Berkswell cheese, and milk the farm’s flock of sheep. Those six weeks 100% confirmed that working with cheese was to be my career path, and I signed up for an intensive, year long diploma course in cheese making at the newly opened School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. Going to the school was the most incredible experience, not only is it in a seriously beautiful setting on the Welbeck estate, but the course taught me both the practice and theory of cheesemaking on site, and opened doors for internships and visits to a number of different cheese makers in the UK, France and America, who I learnt a vast amount from.
– What is it that draws you to cheese?
What other product combines gastronomy, biology, chemistry, agriculture, history and geography the same way that cheese does? It’s amazing that all cheeses – everything from a fresh, milky mozzarella, to a pungent Camembert, to a nutty farmhouse Cheddar to a sweet, aromatic Comté are all made from the same ingredient, milk. I love the idea of an artisan cheese having been produced on the same farm, by the same family, to the same recipe for generations, yet still every batch is slightly different. Cheeses change on a daily basic, depending any number of different factors such as the diet of the animals, the lactation cycle of the herd, or the cheesemaker’s handling of the milk, and that’s really interesting!
– You have began your own cheesemaking dairy in the Startford-upon-Avon area, how is that all going?
Yeah, it’s a really exciting journey, so far so smooth, but the project is still in its infancy. I’d like to think that by September the majority, if not all the building work on the dairy will have been completed, and the equipment will be in place to start production. What I’m not doing is mass producing, my dairy will be small scale, with the cheese being made by hand. In a way, the recipe is very simple, I’m taking the best unpasteurised milk around and allowing it to fully express itself in the cheese I’m making, by doing as little as possible to it, the idea is for the cheese to reflect its origin. Its a really exciting – and risky(!) project, as I’ll be following a method of cheesemaking which died out in the UK hundreds of years ago and even in France only really takes place in really remote, mountainous areas. Hopefully it will pay off and we’ll have some really special cheese!
– For those who don’t know much about the artisan movement in the context of cheese, what is the latest occuring there?
It’s booming. Decent artisan and farmhouse British cheeses are getting so much recognition today, new cheesemaking businesses are popping up all over the county in many different guises – from dairy farmers adding value to their milk by making cheese on the farm to folk like me, starting brand new enterprises, buying milk from an existing farm. Thanks to TV chefs, the public is so much more educated on the food they are buying, and can genuinely recognise quality, and understand that paying a little more for a handmade product, whether it’s a beautiful raw milk cheese, a long fermented sourdough or a really stunning ham, is not only better for health, but life enriching and incredibly delicious!
– What can visitors expect to see from yourself at the Stratford Food Festival?
I’ll be sharing a few stories about cheese, a little bit of how it is made, and why different cheeses evolved in specific regions. I’ll select a few of the very best of British farmhouse cheeses and give a bit of a tasting session! Sadly, I won’t have any of my own cheese made by September, but I will reveal a lot more on the progress of my venture and when the cheese will be available!
Join us in our Talk and Taste Theatre where David will be doing a talk about artisan cheese making on both Saturday and Sunday of the Festival weekend. As well as a list of other talks being held, visit www.stratfordfoodfestival.co.uk to keep updated with what’s on at the Festival.