Alexander our Farmshop Buyer, has a huge passion and love of cheese. Here is his final part five of “Personal Reflections of a humble Cheesemonger” we hope you are enjoyed the read and HUGE thank you to Alex for sharing this remarkable story of cheese.
Part 5 -Learning from the best
Written by Alexander Evans our Farmshop Buyer
Learning from the best
When the Farm Shops at Tebay opened in 2002, I was determined to put in a cheese counter as no other food can give you that sense of place; with its local and regional specialities, you can say to a traveller, “ this is us, this is what we do, these are the farms and this is what they make”. My small team of staff had never worked behind a cheese counter before and were nervous to say the least. I told them that the best thing to do was to listen to their customer. Always offer a small piece of cheese to taste, then taste the cheese with them and open up a discussion as to what they are looking for. When I first started, an elderly, daughter of the empire, living at Princess Gate, took me under her wing. She came in most days to find a tempting morsel of Stilton for her housebound husband. She taught me how to spot a good Stilton by the smell, the moisture on the crust and the slight “give” in the body. She taught me how to turn the cheese to even the flow of the oils within so that the cheese didn’t over ripen nor dry out. At Christmas we sold four Stiltons. Her favourite was Colston Basset which at the time was made from raw milk. I think that if she were alive now she would approve of Joe Schneider’s Stichelton which is also made with raw milk and is our King of the Blues at both Tebay and Gloucester.
What we are Missing
Whilst supermarkets extend their opening hours and increase their home deliveries, outdoor Farmers Markets are in Lockdown. As Eric and Diane Horn of Birdoswold Cheese lament on their Twitter feed: it’s easier to buy paint from B&Q, than quality, local food at a Farmers Market. In the normal course of events, you could see our two Cumbrian, Farmhouse cheese makers at Brampton. It is a picturesque Market town, not far from Hadrian’s wall. Carolyn Fairbairn first made Allendale, a hard goats cheese back in 1979. She makes a large Cumberland Farmhouse which she matures on especially for us, the milk coming from local Dairy Shorthorn cattle. Her Smoked Cumberland is best in its class, the cheese having sat slowly smoking in an old brick out house at the dairy at Crofton Hall Dairy. You can visit and buy or cheese direct but we hope that you will call in and buy from us too. Further north, sits Slack House Farm, Gilsland, on the B6318, running along Hadrian’s wall. It’s magical in good weather, but the organic farm has no protection from the elements that run in like raiding Border Reivers. This is a hard life: Diane Horn makes traditional live yoghurt the has the cream on the top, whilst Eric makes cheese from the milk of their 30 Ayrshire cows.
Although everything we try and celebrate local in everything we do at Tebay, Cairn and Gloucester, Farmers Markets are the best way to find local food. This was the case whenever I was researching before we opened Gloucester. At Stroud Farmers Market I got my first taste of Wiltshire Loaf and Brinkworth Blue, both made by Ceri Cryer at Brinkworth Dairy. Mary Holbrook was still manning her stall at At Bath Farmers Market and also there was Tim Homewood, who I thought had really cracked the whole English Feta thing which they call Pickled Ewes Cheese.