The Interview: Ann-Marie Dyas, The Fine Cheese Co.

Meet Ann-Marie Dyas of The Fine Cheese Co.: cheese lover, protector and revolutionary

MAKING IT WORK

I might be a bit of a dreamer here, but I’d like to think there’s a growing desire for authenticity and honesty in foods and that every food scare is driving that home. I find there’s a greater appreciation of quality in food and cheese today than there has been before, which I consider very heartening.

This is a hand-in-glove fit with the philosophy of the Fine Cheese Co. as our motto is: “Always seek out the best, and when you find it, keep looking”. I’m still hugely excited by my own business, as it’s almost like a search that never ends – I’m always on a quest to find a better cheese, and that’s my motivation. I find it all very exciting. You have to love what you do, and if you don’t you won’t make a success of it.

One must always try, although I find it quite easy, to stay true to your principles. Mine is to never sacrifice quality for profit. I’m looking for quality always; I’m not always looking for profit. This is an artisan philosophy which positions us as part of the cheesemaking chain – it’s a very honourable and connected profession. It’s always interesting because it’s so dynamic. There’s no finer industry.

INSPIRATION

Mary Holbrook, the doyenne of goats’ cheese, was the curator of the Holborn Museum in Bath. Her husband was a farmer, and one day a tenant farmer of her husband’s who had reared goats and sheep had given notice so they considered going into cheesemaking.

Mary decided to try her hand at this, and as an academic took an academic approach. She travelled to Italy, Sicily and France to see how the Europeans were making cheese. She decided she’d try to make a Pecorino style cheese, but when she returned she wasn’t able to find a basket mould like they had in Europe so went to a hardware store and bought a plastic colander – today, nearly every British cheesemaker uses plastic colanders to make their cheese.

Mary went on to make Tymsboro’, which in time became the gold standard in goats cheese. She had science but she had art, too, which helped her to create cheeses equal to those the French were producing – other cheesemakers had and did the same.

BRITISH VS CONTINENTAL

In the eighties, all hotels had cheeseboards but the majority of the cheeses on them were French. Thanks to this evolution of the industry, my then-husband and I were able to go to chefs as well as retailers and offer them fantastic British cheeses as an alternative to the European cheese they were selling. They were all excited to do this, which led to members of the public becoming keen to try new British cheeses.

This Renaissance is continuing, with cheesemakers like the Crickmores at Fen Farm Dairy actually outdoing the French at making true artisan raw-milk Brie with a combination of Fresian and Montbelliard cows. Any Frenchman would think that it had been made on his own terroir. In fact, what’s happening these days is more than a Renaissance – we’re leading the way.

Read the full interview in the latest issue of Speciality Food, free to download here.

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