Bordeaux Quay, 6th Feb 2011
by Alex Testrote, Trethowan’s Dairy
The Cheese School concept was the brainchild of Jess Trethowan and Fiona Beckett and took it’s fledgling steps last year. Whilst I have had no direct involvement, I have watched it’s progress with a solicitous and avuncular eye.
The idea is to offer the public the occasion to learn more about every aspect of the subject, with modules on the history and tenets of British artisan cheeses, choosing, buying & storing, food and drink pairings, presentation, as well as the rare opportunity to taste and consider in isolation, as you would with a wine for instance. So when I was given the chance to observe it up close & personal, with a foot in both camps, I could not pass it by.
The day was full on but fun, and having cheese makers present in the room along with experts in many other aspects of the related products and skill bases may have been initially a little daunting, but their generosity and enthusiasm soon overcame any reservations. By the time the simple, but stunning and topical lunch was served there was no doubt about all present wanting to stay and glean every last jewel of knowledge.
From my perspective, growing an interest whilst also giving greater insight into the world of singular, hand crafted cheese production including labour costs and the real people behind the product not only benefits the retail aspects. A lot of my involvement is at the cutting edge of the food industry, by which I mean spending a large part of my “Trethowan Time” talking to chefs & restaurateurs who, though they may have a huge empathy for fine ingredients, still find it hard to push the message to customers that view the product as complete, and with no visible added value from the chef other than putting it on the plate, the need to be asking an average of around £12 for an optional course. It is a difficult sell, and for them possibly the highest single ingredient cost.
If we can convince people who are dining out that they should be looking critically at how and where a restaurant sources, stores and presents it’s cheeses as an indication and extension of the care it gives to sourcing all its produce, then we back them in that decision, and I see that as part of our role. In a retail environment there is a direct interface with the end user and the chance to convince, in wholesale no such luxury exists. Whilst we can give support & training to restaurant staff, an empowered and knowledgeable customer can drive standards up faster than a busy front of house staff.
In recent times we have seen a lot of publicity given to why we should query how and where a lot of ingredients in the food we consume outside of our homes is sourced, food miles, seasonality, ethical issues not to mention security, cheese has very much been bypassed in all these discussions, but as a reemerging industry in the UK, it is an equally valid resource.
Having seen the enthusiasm generated at Cheese School on Sunday at Bordeaux Quay I was hugely encouraged. Like the rise of British artisan cheese making in general, Cheese School is still finding its wings, but the audience was responsive, the appreciation was tangible and the message was clear. I think this may be the next big campaign, and I already see lot of industry people and food writers getting behind it.
Incidentally, as a spy in the camp I managed a crafty sneak at the feedback forms, the comments, like the questions on the day, were intelligent and inciteful and I am sure they will be used to take Cheese School to the next level.
Overall, all I can offer from my sneaky observations is this advice :- If they try to make you go to cheese school just say Yes, Yes,Yes
More thankyou’s to follow in full on the cheese school website.
Awaiting more wonderful photos by @EatPictures