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Being a ‘cheese communicator’ who loves to travel and meet up with cheese people all over the world, it was really a dream coming true to join the Cheese Journeys crew on a trip to the UK. It was a trip long anticipated as it had been postponed several times due to covid.
If you wonder what a Cheese Journey really is all about, please keep reading my diary…
Day 1: Food walking tour in London
We are around 30 people on this tour which is quite a big group. Everyone has flown into London during the weekend, and Monday morning we meet up close to Tower Bridge (and the great food paradise Borough Market). Let the official program begin!
An important mission
First stop is at Neils Yard Dairy. They have cheese shops in several places in London as well as maturing facilities and a wholesale business. First, we get an introduction to the company. Since the late 1970s their mission has been: To improve British Cheese. They do this through close collaboration with cheese producers and are responsible for sales of the cheeses via their own shops, wholesale and export.
Food writer and cook book author Celia Brooks tells us about Borough Market which with its 1000 years is one of London’s oldest food markets. The existing buildings date back to 1756, and today the stalls are occupied by small producers primarily with sustainable and social projects. We walk around and make severals pit stops to taste freshly made sugar cane juice, Iraqi-inspired street food, oysters & bubbles, Spanish black-foot ham and of course cheese, both English and Italian.
With a classic Scotch Egg in a paper bag (boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and fried), we mount the bus to Somerset, which will be the base for the rest of the trip (this is where cheddar originally comes from).
Somerset – here we come!
After a few hours, the bus turns onto a narrow road – of course with hedges along the fields – and the sun is about to set. Suddenly we get the first glimpse of North Cadbury Court. which will be our home for the rest of the week. The place is owned by the third generation of the Montgomery cheddar family. The house is actually Jamie Montgomery’s childhood home. Together with his now deceased brother, he redecorated the house in the most beautiful way respecting its origins, and I totally understand that today’s couples come here to get married.
With a glass of bubbles in one hand and a map of the three floors in the other, we go exploring. Jamie tells stories about the house and what it was like growing up here. Four-poster beds, old bathtubs on thick wall-to-wall carpets, small hidden stairs, fireplaces with a roaring fire – it’s all here.
To fill the many hungry mouths, two chefs are joining us for the week. They have settled into the big Victorian kitchen and on the first evening they serve Indian food. Camilla from The Somerset Wine Company gives us a talk about local wines, which due to climate changes are getting better and better conditions.
Day 2: The big cheese event
Today is for many the highlight of the week as the top of English cheesemakers come to visit. We will be 60 for dinner, and after a cheese tasting, ‘rabbit pies’ will be served. The chefs have therefore invited us into the kitchen on a cookery school, where we help to make 60 small pies, while they generously share little tricks and cooking secrets with us.
The cheese influencer Madame Fromage, a.k.a. Tenaya Darlington, is giving a mini course in food photography this morning, and soon everyone is running around the big house with a mobile phone and a cheese or something else in their hands to find the best background and the perfect light.
During the afternoon, our guests arrive. They represent a total of 12 dairies, some are farm dairies, others are slightly larger. In a separate blog post I will later tell about these shining stars in the British cheese sky.
The ‘Ballroom’ is the perfect scene for our special evening, and a table plan tells cheesemakers and guests how to mix. The evening begins with a cheese tasting, where each dairy briefly presents their cheese on the plate, but also tells a little about their own story. How on earth did they come into the cheese business? Or they talk about their family’s cheese story across generations. A recurring concept is regenerative agriculture, which clearly is close to our cheesemakers’ hearts. You can read more about this in a subsequent blog post.
Day 3: Cheese painting, relax and cocktails
If you don’t take a cheese painting class on a cheese journey, when would you? The artist Mike Geno is also part of the team, and his painting career is focused on painting cheeses. Today he gives a class.
First we choose the cheese we want to portray. I choose Applesby’s cheshire. It is an eyecathing orange cheese with a beautiful natural crust with all sorts of shades on it. Mike tells us how to attack it, and then a deep concentration spreads in the room. We mix our own color shades. First we draw the outline before we get to the details. Mike comments and helps along the way – and suddenly several hours have passed and we are all a little impressed by the painting we have ended up with.
By now, North Cadbury Court feels at home, and today we also have some time off to play a game of snooker, relax in the spa or just walk down the sloping lawn where the cows graze.
Later, Tenaya throws a small cocktail party before dinner. We taste a good combination between traditional farmhouse cheddar and a whiskey cocktail (Irish sweet whiskey, chartreuse and sweet vermuth as well as a splash of lemon juice). I remind myself that cocktails and cheese is an area I should explore a little more…
Day 4: Montgomery Cheddar, cows and Camelot
Montgomery Cheddar is today run by Jamie Montgomery, and the dairy is a five-minute walk away from North Cadbury Court. We walk through the village and at the dairy we are met with the very special cheddar production where blocks of cheese grains are stacked again and again while they are fermenting. You can read about this in a subsequent blog post. At the ripening warehouse, we taste cheddar with different degrees of ripening. It strikes me how different these cheddar cheeses are from the common ones we most often buy in my home country, Denmark.
Camelot with a view
In the afternoon, Jamie walks with us up to Cadbury Castle, which is an artificially elevated hill from the Bronze and Iron Ages. It may or may not have had something to do with the legend of King Arthur’s court Camelot. Jamie tells of when archaeologists found pottery fragments from the Middle Ages. About how the experts have concluded that here was probably an important military base where powerful people met.
And it does make sense. Here on top of the hill we have the most spectacular view over green fields and round hills.
Below the hill lies the barn where Montgomery’s jersey cows live. It has been a mild autumn this year and the cows have just been taken in from the fields the day before. You can not make cheddar from their milk, as the fat content is too high. It is instead used for the Ogleshield cheese, which is perfect for raclette. Which we ourselves will taste at tonight’s dinner.
Farewell dinner and cheese history
For the farewell dinner we have a new guest. The cheese writer Patrick McGuigan (who by the way was my cheese teacher when I took Levels 1 and 2 at the Academy of Cheese) gives us a brief introduction to the history of English cheese. Among other things he talks about the transformation from an industry in ruins after World War II to the current blooming renaissance.
Tonight the dinner takes place in ‘the Yacht Club’, a small cabin by a lake a few hundred meters from the main house. After dinner we gather around a bonfire and share experiences, tell stories and laugh. It actually touches me to think that here is a group of people who five days ago largely didn’t know each other. But now, after four full cheese days, personal stories and dreams have been shared back and forth…
Day 5: Westcombe Dairy, pub lunch and goodbye
First, we visit Westcombe Dairy, which has gone from making cheddar in large blocks to traditional farmhouse cheddar. At the same time, it is a very innovative dairy with a strong focus on regenerative agriculture. The dairy is run by father and son, and it is the son, Tom Calver, who shows us around. We visit one of the three farms providing the milk as well as the dairy and their new maturation cave built into a hill. One of the employees is the robot ‘Tina the Turner’, whose foremost job is to turn the many cheeses.
Beer and cheese
The Wild Beer Company shares address with the dairy, and they make sour beer, wild-fermented and barrel-aged beer. Our visits ends with a beer and cheese tasting. Here I experience a match made in heaven between Westcombe’s raw milk cheddar and a wildly fermented beer with added apple juice (from local Somerset apples, of course).
No UK trip without a real pub lunch! And this is exactly where we enjoy our last meal before the bus returns to Heathrow Airport and we spread in all directions.
About Cheese Journeys
The cool woman behind Cheese Journeys is Anna Juhl. Being a nurse, her career took a turn when she ‘happened’ to buy a cheese shop. After years as a cheese monger, she founded Cheese Journeys. Here she combines her two passions: Cheese and travel. In perfectly curated cheese programs, she gives people a cheese experience beyond expectations.