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I was fascinated to read that scientists in Austria have found molecular evidence through preserved faeces that blue cheese and beer were being consumed by miners more than 2,700 years ago. To be honest this comes as no surprise to me, especially as cheese has formed a staple part of the northern hemisphere’s diet for thousands of years. To now know that humans were actually making blue cheese along with beer thousands of years ago just makes me smile a little more.
Our relationship with cheese over the last four decades has changed dramatically and is finally going in the right direction. At the end of World War II our artisan cheese production had almost ground to a halt. The bulk of cheese was being made in factories with pasteurised milk.
The quality of this cheese was poor especially when compared to what had been enjoyed prior. There are many reasons for this, including centralisation, national rationing and industrialisation.
Since then there has been much positive change. Cheesemongers, makers and foodies such as Patrick Rance, Bob Farrand, Mary Holbrook, Randolph Hodgson, James Aldridge, John Savage, and Peter Gott (there are more) have put artisan cheese back on the map.
Today we are constantly celebrating great new artisan cheese producers who are totally at one with their work. The reason for my column this month is to highlight this global competition and others such as The James Aldridge Award and The British Cheese Awards. In our retail lives it is so important to choose our cheese that we sell carefully. Good competitions genuinely recognise great cheese. I only ever want to sell great cheese.
Other associations are also important to follow or if possible become a member of. The SCA (Specialist Cheesemakers Association) for me is the powerhouse of knowledge. If you have a moment, just see who their members are. The SCA members include some of the world’s finest cheesemakers. Many years ago whilst sitting in my (then) Jermyn Street office I fondly remember scrolling through the contact details of cheesemakers on the SCA website and contacting these truly passionate people.
The foundations of my cheese selections at No2 came from careful research and conversation. So if you are considering opening up a cheese shop, take your time. Speak to people in the know, read a lot about cheese. Have fun. This timeless food needs nurturing; we almost lost our cheese heritage, mainly because of industrialisation. Think of yourself as a pioneer. As a cheesemonger/retailer you are helping to promote good cheese and are keeping independent producers afloat. Choose your products carefully.
As humans, our love of cheese has been with us for thousands of years, so it should be recognised properly. For too long cheese has been commoditised by industrialists. We need more retailers of artisan cheese and artisan cheesemakers.