Ian's Grand Day Out in Cheltenham
One Friday at the end of September I got into the Figaro and drove up to Cheltenham for the Great British Cheese Festival. This was the 'Trade Day' for the weekend event which has become a real institution on the cheese scene since it began in the 1980s. In charge is an apparently redoubtable New Zealander called Juliet Harbutt (learn more about her at her website, The Cheese Web).
This was my first 'trade' outing on behalf of The Cheese Shed, and as I pinned my badge on and walked onto the site - a park right in the middle of the town - it did seem to me that I might now be a 'real' rather than a 'virtual' cheesemonger. The badges suggest a sort of democracy, but it only goes so far: one well-known maker suddenly switched her attention rather too suddenly from me to another badge-wearer. The thing was: my badge said "The Cheese Shed"; his said "Marks and Spencer".
In one huge marquee are around 100 cheese makers - the organisers call it 'the biggest cheese market in Britain' and I don't suppose anyone's going to argue. I spent most of my time there wandering slowly from stand to stand, getting to know the cheeses and intruducing myself to the makers. Although I already knew most of what was on display, there were some items I only knew from photos. And there's only so much you can learn about cheese from a photo.
I met some great people: Mary Quicke, who was great fun, Diana Smart, and Charlie Westhead (of Neals Yard Creamery), along with some familiar faces, like Dave Johnson from Norsworthy who had helped out with the Cheese Shed's recent publicity. That's him in the picture above, with Sharpham's Mark Sharman at the top and yours truly at the bottom.
As a result of meetings and tastings in Cheltenham, I've now listed two new Quickes cheeses (Vintage Cheddar and their Goats Cheese), Smart's Double Gloucester and Simon Weaver's variations on Cotswold Brie.
What I really came away with, though, was inspiration. The makers are passionately engaged in something really exciting: they're not likley to get rich, they have an uphill struggle against their larger competitors, regulations, the supermarkets (not to mention the vagaries of the cheese-making process itself with its wayward bacteria), but they continue. And they create extraordinary things. And I think they know that the public mood - ever more concerned with quality, with local distinctiveness, with the fresh, the real, the individual - is flowing in their direction.
The British Cheese Awards are a key part of the GBCF, and several of 'our' makers won Gold: Sue Proudfoot's Keltic Gold, Sharpham Rustic with Herbs, Montgomery's Cheddar and, last but certainly not least (it won two Golds!): Cornish Blue.
Follow the links above to check out all of those cheeses back in the Shed, or this one to return to our homepage.