Food & Drink / Diary of a Cheesemaker – On Community
As producers of a handmade, unpasteurised product, slow food is not a concept for us, but a way of life and working. This does not mean we are backward looking; indeed it places Gorwydd Farm at the centre of a modern, yet traditional, community of slow food devotees, made up of interwoven and ever increasing circles. What community actually is provokes significant debate, but for us it represents all the people and groups who have contributed in some way to who we are, what we do and why we do it.
Todd, Maugan and I have all, at various stages of our lives, worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. Established by Randolph Hodgson in 1979, Neal’s Yard was a real catalyst for the great British cheese revolution. It was here that we developed our enthusiasm for cheese and it was here where Randolph, with enormous commitment, supported a whole new generation of artisan cheesemakers, allowing them to flourish and prosper. Since then there has been a revival of old recipes and techniques, and adaptations of European-style recipes, which have modernised and diversified the British cheese industry. All those cheesemakers now form an innovative and passionate community who collectively protect and defend against attempts to standardise the industry.
Moving from London to Wales to make our own cheese could have left us feeling isolated – cheesemaking is, after all, a solitary profession – but the Ceredigion area hosts a number of artisanal cheese-makers, each tucked away in the Welsh hillsides, quietly producing award-winning cheeses. All of them are committed to the hands-on, slow nature of cheesemaking, and all are strong in the belief that the quality of their cheese will depend on the extent to which they embrace this life. But empathy for our ways of working and living is felt beyond the network of Welsh dairies. Generations of Welsh farmers show a kind respect for what we are trying to achieve, and when we win awards the whole area is buoyed by the achievement. This is a particular honour as we are still viewed as newcomers to the area, even after 30 years!
More recently we opened a small cheese shop in the beautiful St Nicholas Market, Bristol, and consequently found an exciting new tranche of slow food enthusiasts. As well as the producers of the small range of (mainly) handmade and unpasteurised cheese that we stock, we have met many people intent on making Bristol a city with healthy and sustainable food at its heart. We’ve also worked with some inspiring food producers, brewers (Bristol Beer Factory), bakers (Tom Herbert at Hobbs House), chefs (like those at the wonderful Casamia), farmers, food writers and even musicians (Charlie Usher – former Young Composer of The Year – who happily plays the organ at the cheese and beer tasting nights we hold in our office- a 15th century church!) There is a symbiotic relationship that exists within this group of people, one where we are each spurred on by the others’ enthusiasm and belief in what we do, sometimes excitingly leading us in unique and unexpected directions.
So from our little farmhouse in Wales we reach out to and are embraced by a diverse group of people. We work with each other – despite the fact that many of us are technically competitors – because we have a strong set of shared values, because we want those values to permeate the rest of society. Together we hope to steadily build demand and promote the growth of real slow food in Britain. We are also great friends. And that, to me, is a community.