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Big steps

It feels like a lot longer than a month since I last posted here. It’s certainly been busy, with plenty of events, lining up and booking new festivals and planning a few exciting changes for next year. I’ve also taken the plunge (again) and jumped into something I hadn’t really planned on doing just yet. Selling cheese online is complicated and fraught with the possibilities for horrible, gooey disasters, but the online Cheeseshop is now live.

Setting up an online shop is, as much as anything, an exercise in patience. From the unexpectedly tedious job of entering every product (one by one by one…) to waiting on samples to test packaging, to waiting for the lucky recipients of the tests to feedback (much thanks to Charlie T and my brother for the onerous task of recieving a box of cheese!), it seemed as if the shop and systems would never be ready. Now that they are, I find it’s actually a little bit scary – as if my baby business has suddenly grown up and turned all serious.

Serious-ish, anyway.

Life, of course, has carried on while all of this has been occuring. What was supposed to be a routine check-up on Susie’s engine discovered a ticking time bomb in the form of a severely blocked and ‘gunky’ cylinder head. More than a few hours in the hands of my lovely mechanics, cleaning, soaking and flushing, and Susie’s engine runs so well she’s hardly recognisable. So much so that when I pulled up outside Brewed Boy at the beginning of the month, they didn’t even realise it was me! More silver linings there, I suppose.

Now I’m off to stock up on more cheese for the counter and the online shop…

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Summer Storms

It’s been a stormy couple of months, in more ways than one. We’ve had heatwaves interspersed with foggy, murky days that feel more like October than July, awe-inspiring storms of nature, and slightly less awesome storms of the politcal variety.

There’s still a huge amount of uncertainty as to the impact that the dreaded ‘B’ word will have on businesses, especially when it comes to importing and exporting goods, and the possibility of a sharp increase in tarrifs. The prospect of the resulting price hikes in some of our favourite cheeses is distinctly unpalatable, but at the same time, there is also an opportunity for some of our British cheesemakers to step in and fill the void.

Typically, top-quality British cheese does tent to be a little more pricey than it’s imported rivals, but with the cost of European cheeses already on the rise, that gap is narrowing. We already have local(ish) answers to classic European cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, Pecorino, Gouda and many more, and there are rumours spreading about a very local version of Shaftesbury’s most popular cheese…

I have to say that I do still believe we’re better off as part of Europe, but any sotrm has a silver lining and I’ll look forward to seeing how our wonderful British cheesemakers make the most of it. In the meantime, Susie and I will carry on in the firm belief that cheese makes everything better.

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An update:

Completing the work needed to bring Susie back to the condition she needs to be in has proven to be more difficult than I had expected. At the moment, I’m not sure how long it will take before we can get back on the road, but don’t worry, it will happen! In the meantime, I do still have some cheese, biscuits and accompaniments, so if you would like a cheese delivery, let me know! Hope to see you all soon,


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Vegan vs. Carnivore, Industrial vs. Artisan.

Veganuary, whether you agree with it or not, has been very much in the news and social media, with as many reports damning high-intensity vegetable farming as there are on the perils of the animal-based protein industry. As a cheesemonger, it’s a difficult subject to approach. There are, absolutely, flaws within the dairy industry, but many of those stem from a lack of opportunity to turn ‘waste’ into income in an industry that already carries significant financial risk. The plight of billy goat kids highlighted this in recent years, with the majority being slaughtered and discarded rather than sold for meat. Despite campaigning, it’s still difficult to get hold of goat meat, certainly in this rural area. It’s a vicious circle; without the opportunity to try it, consumers can’t build up a market. Without the market, small retailers can’t take the risk of buying in stock that they can’t count on selling.

It’s hard to point at one thing and say, “if we change this, everything will be better”. Cut out animal products, and there are very real concerns about the impact of arable farming on the quality of the soil that makes up our landscape. On the other hand, the impact of livestock farming at a level to sustain current consumption is equally alarming.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few local cheesemakers, folk who are using milk from their own herds or buying it in from small, local farms. With their focus on producing cheese that’s simply as good as they can make it, they’re working to a model that has more in common with the pre-war industry than it does the mass production adopted by creameries.

No, this isn’t some kind of rose tinted, ‘wasn’t everything wonderful back then’ rant – it was as difficult an industry then, as it is today, and today’s cheesemakers have the advantages of several decades of scientific research to help them understand why a cheese might behave a certain unexpected way, and how to achieve the results they’re looking for. Whilst our Enviromental Health Officers get a lot of bad press, the majority do a good job and are, increasingly, showing that they do understand the peculiarities of artisan food and are willing to work with the industry, not against it. As awful as it is to see dairies such as Errington and Barwhey being persecuted for their craft, we can be thankful, at least, that cases like this do seem to be the exception now, rather than the rule.

That pre-war industry was sustainable. People made cheese when they had milk to do it and because cheese was, and is, a more valuable product than milk, as well as being one that’s a lot easier to transport and sell! Indeed, that’s how many of the classic cheeses we know and love today came about; farmers combining milk from morning and evening milkings (Double Gloucester), or collaborating within a small area to make their herds profitable (Gruyere aop). As a certain Somerset cheesemaker was heard to say – if the price you’re getting for your milk is too low, don’t complain about it, do something else with it to increase its value.

Maybe that’s the one thing we can change to make a big difference – work together, farmers and cheesemakers, retailers and consumers, but without the monoculture, high-impact production that’s so detrimental to our environment and, ultimately, to the quality of the produce. Collaboration, in tandem with moderation.

Make Local, Shop Local, Eat Local.

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The Thank You Speech

The day has finally arrived – The Truckle Truck is ready to hit the road! Whilst I had planned to visit Shaftesbury for the maiden voyage, things haven’t quite gone according to… well, plan, so the trial run will be in Peterborough instead.
After that though, Susie and I will be rolling up in the local area, with regular markets and also a good selection of seasonal ones too.
Of course, getting to this point wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of a lot of people.
Ashley and his team at Tudor Catering Trailers, who converted an empty shell according to my slightly odd requests!
Gareth and Mel at Beeson + Beeson for the fabulous designs that have given the brand so much character,
Matt and family at Clearsigns, who battled the infamous corrugated panels to apply the finishing touches,
Spencer and the team at JayLee Refrigeration,
All of the old Turnbulls customers for your patience!
And last, but definitely not least, Charlie Turnbull and Jilly Sitch, without whom I would never have started out on this road.