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The Cheesemans Mongerings

Cheese Musings

General Mongerings Posted on Wed, August 03, 2016 11:17:59

A question was posted on English Forum back in September 2010 (an online forum for English language help and advice in Switzerland – Grumpy BTW relates to my user name there, Grumpygrapefruit) ……

“Whilst enjoying a variety of Grumpys cheeses tonight i had the same
thought I often have and this time I thought i’d put it to you guys –
why isn’t British cheese famous/well known world wide, why aren’t the
British regarded as a great cheese making nation?

I like Swiss cheese but the majority of it is very similar, slightly
rubbery at times, same colour, texture and usually taste. So I ask, why
does this nice but a bit bland cheese have notoriety around the globe
and how the hell did the Swiss become world renowned cheese
makers/producers?

When you visit Grumpys stall compared to the other stalls around him
selling swiss cheeses you first of all notice the array of colours of
the cheese, then you taste and they all have different textures and
tastes, they are so diverse in comparison to many other nations’
cheeses.

I suppose what i am wondering is how the hell did Swiss cheese become
famous and British cheese leaves more non British people saying ‘what?
British cheese? good?’

For me it’s the best but then maybe I am biased “

And so I gave an answer. (The full thread can be read here)

The answer to your question could fill a book I guess, but here’s a shortish reply……

“Whilst enjoying a variety of Grumpys cheeses tonight i had the same
thought I often have and this time I thought i’d put it to you guys –
why isn’t British cheese famous/well known world wide, why aren’t the British regarded as a great cheese making nation?”

The main reason stems from 1939 when there were over 1500 cheese makers
in the UK. At the outbreak of the war the ministry of food saw these
cheese makers as being quite wasteful with an important source of
protein, so they banned cheese making – all the milk for cheese was then
used to make powdered milk, quicker to process, easier to store and
cheaper to transport. They did allow a few factory dairies to make a
very mild, fast maturing plastic substance which they called the
“National Cheese” and towards the end of the war these factories were
allowed to produce 5 or 6 other varieties but they re-designed the
original recipes to work with their existing mass production machinery.
It is these cheap, mass produced post-war creations that are still
offered in the UK supermarkets.

Restrictions were lifted in 1952 so that farmers could make cheese
again, but after a 13 year break they had lost the skills, family
members or even the farms to make them with. Also at this time
supermarkets starting opening and they were not interested in relatively
expensive hand made cheeses when cheap, mass produced cheeses were
readily available. These supermarkets really controlled the cheese
market until well into the 1970’s (well, they still do control the mass
market for cheese) meaning that 3 generations of British people forgot
that Britain can make “proper” cheese.

Even to this day, if a visitor to the UK wanted to take some cheese
home, chance are that they would visit a high street supermarket and buy
what still is some of the worse cheese in the world.

Also, the Brits themselves are partly to blame. I have found that to
most people back home, good food has to be exotic food. Hence, in a
traditional pub in the country you are more likely to find Thai green
curry rather than Rabbit pie or Lincolnshire Chine. To most Brits,
Cheddar cheese is good, but it ain’t special like French cheese. Innit.

I like Swiss cheese but the majority of it is very similar, slightly
rubbery at times, same colour, texture and usually taste. So I ask, why
does this nice but a bit bland cheese have notoriety around the globe
and how the hell did the Swiss become world renowned cheese makers/producers?”

The main ingredient for cheese is grass and in the mountains they do
have good quality grass in abundance. The difference in quality is quite
subtle but it does make a difference to the finished product. Also the
Swiss (and French of course) are very well educated about quality food
(as opposed to processed supermarket fodder) and, unlike the Brits,
shout from the rooftops about how good their cheese is.

When you visit Grumpys stall compared to the other stalls around him
selling swiss cheeses you first of all notice the array of colours of
the cheese, then you taste and they all have different textures and
tastes, they are so diverse in comparison to many other nations’
cheeses.”

Well, Britain does make more varieties of cheese (over 700) more than
any other country, so at a cheese stall selling 50 or more of the best
of these varieties you will find lots of different styles, flavours and
textures, something that I think I’m quite well known for. Even my 5
cheddars in stock at the moment are very different from each
other. Also, the different rinds that British cheese has, cloth and lard
bound, waxed, natural bloom, wash rinded, nettle and herb rinds, all
give a beautiful picture of variety.


“I suppose what i am wondering is how the hell did Swiss cheese
become famous and British cheese leaves more non British people saying
‘what? British cheese? good?’

For me it’s the best but then maybe I am biased”

You shout loud enough about how proud you are of your (admittedly high
quality) product, and the message will eventually stick. Something that
I’m working on right now

© Michael Jones, January 2017



A Cheesy Tale

General Mongerings Posted on Wed, August 03, 2016 10:53:01

My first article (published in Hello Switzerland early in 2008) about the birth of The British Cheese Centre and my new life on a farm in Eastern Switzerland with my (now ex) wife, but still business partner Astrid.


A Cheesy Tale

Think of food from Switzerland and most people will think of Cheese and Chocolate. When I first met my Swiss Girlfriend in London two years ago those are the two things I thought of when she told me where she came from. I had never been to Switzerland but seeing as my biggest passion in life is good food and especially cheese, the conversation inevitably turned towards that subject. “Oh yes, we have some good cheese in Switzerland, but give me British cheese any day!”. It was not what I was expecting but it was the start of a love affair that saw me leaving behind a hectic life running a graphics company just outside London to following her to Zurich and finally to a small farm on the side of a mountain in Eastern Switzerland.

Through her work she had been sent on a British Cheese workshop run by Juliet Harbutt, known as the Queen of British Cheese, and she started telling me things about my own country’s cheese that even I did not know. The more I delved into British cheese, the more I wanted to learn, and taste. Very few of my fellow countrymen know that there are over 700 varieties of British Cheese (that’s more than France) and over the past decade there has been a burgeoning interest in traditional styles, farmhouse production and new artisan cheeses. The King of British Cheese is undoubtedly Blue Stilton, the only British cheese with a certification trademark although there are now 12 cheeses with their own EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) including Single Gloucester, the lesser known brother to the more famous Double Gloucester, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar and Exmoor Blue.

On my arrival in Switzerland I set about exploring Swiss Cheese (something that will keep me busy for many more years to come) and to find out what Swiss people knew about British Cheese – not much was the answer! I found that it was possible to find factory made cheddar in supermarkets and some fairly good Cheddar and Stilton in specialist cheese counters. But otherwise there was little of what I like to call “Real Cheese” from the UK. Real Cheese, for me, is like good wine. It represents a region, and the style and flavour of the finished cheese is influenced by similar factors: the soil, altitude, climate as well as local cultures and farming traditions. Not to mention the maturing process. Small wonder that wine and cheese are often seen as the perfect partners.

It wasn’t long after I arrived that we decided it would be a great idea, or an eccentric one at least, to introduce the Best of British to this land of cheese. Coals to Newcastle as we would say in the UK. It has been a slow process, finding dairies and distributors in the UK and Switzerland who could help arrange the transport, choosing the best legal vehicle for the business, climbing through some bureaucratic hoops regarding importing but we finally got there and started shipping British Cheese from our on-line shop at the end of last year.

Now in the new year we are busy adding Swiss cheese to our shop from small dairies making little known styles, or from those specialising in BIO (organic) production as well as sourcing other products to compliment cheese: Oat cakes from Orkney, fig and almond bread from Spain and chutnies and jellies from all over Europe are already online. Next on the agenda is Cheese tasting events and workshops in our cheese cellar on Flumserberg as well as in Zurich and the rest of Switzerland.

Here in Eastern Switzerland I am spoilt for choice in my search for good cheese. There are some wonderful dairies in out of the way places within 100 km of me – I am now a big fan of the cheese from Val Müstair in the very far east. Surrounded by Italy, it is a bit of a trek to get to but worth it for the countryside, the friendly people and the food. Then just a short hop over the border into Italy will open up for me a whole new world of gastronomic delights.

Life in Switzerland, and especially here on Flumserberg, is as different to my life in the UK as chalk and…. well cheese. Working on the farm with my Girlfriends horses and my new project, my free range Pro Specie Rara chickens, has opened up a whole new world of experiences for me. The problems I have encountered, mainly the very hard physical work and the extreme weather in winter but also to a smaller extent getting to grips with the language, have been far outweighed by the positives: the beautiful climate throughout the rest of the year, the view from my office down the Flumser valley and then to the Churfirsten mountain range, the absence of traffic jams and the clockwork public transport. Not to mention sitting on the terrace on a Sunday evening, with a slice of cheese, sipping a local wine, watching the traffic leaving the mountain to head back to the cities and knowing I have yet another week in paradise.

What will the coming year or two bring? More cheese and chickens for sure, evaluating the success of my newly planted fruit trees, converting a barn to bed & breakfast accommodation, applying for BIO status for the farm, selling cheese in a Zurich market and becoming fluent in Chickenese.

I seem to understand them, I’m not entirely sure they understand me yet though. I suppose it must be the Yorkshire accent.

© Michael Jones, January 2017