Isle of Wight Flavours – Isle of Wight Cheese Co
I first met Richard about 10 years ago when I was working at The Hambrough in Ventnor. We went up to the dairy for the day and Richard kindly gave us a tour and explained how the cheese is made. At the time the equipment was limited and everything was very manual. Richard was working pretty much every day and he had just three cheeses in the range but the business was growing at a good rate. You could see the passion in Richard and his Mum Julie was also working alongside him. It was lovely to see this small family run company in such an exciting time. Even back then, the process was almost clinical, the space immaculately clean and Richard an obvious perfectionist. Here was someone who had studied a craft and turned it into something wonderful using his passion and attention to detail. I felt it would have been easy for him to run ahead at this point and make a bigger range of cheeses or expand into other dairy products. It was great to see him focusing on creating an amazing small range where quality and consistency were paramount.
I started to use the IOW blue as an ingredient on the menu and I made a blue cheese and white chocolate ganache with it for a cheese based dessert. Richard was intrigued and you could tell he was proud to see his product being used in different ways. It is such a creamy flavoursome cheese, with a consistency and texture profile that really lends itself to desserts. I served the ganache with a walnut frangipane and celery sorbet as a kind of savoury dessert. It remains one of my favourite desserts I have ever made as it really challenges people’s tastebuds and is a real talking point. From there I also made a white chocolate and IOW blue cheese fudge! Richard was visibly excited and keen to explore opportunities with which we could work together. He has always been very forthcoming with advice and encouraging for me to start something for myself.
Over the years I have caught up with Richard regularly and he is very approachable when it comes to linking up in business. The Isle of Wight Cheese Co. was an obvious partner for my business Eat Street. We feature the Isle of Wight blue, IOW soft and Gallybagger on our menu in various dishes.
When talking about his future plans for The Isle of Wight Cheese Co. he always mentions community and dreams of a place where everyone meets together and shares communal spaces and experiences. The passion he shows for this is infectious and has certainly rubbed off onto me and my business now, which is centred on similar ideals. We have had many discussions about joining up for events, special menus and suchlike in the future and I am sure there will be lots of opportunity there. Richard is always happy to have a chat and bounce ideas around.
For me The Isle of Wight Cheese Co. is the epitome of Island life. A family run company which gives as much to the locals and area as it takes and is something we can really be proud of as an Island. When I talk to people living in Hampshire who have tried the IOW cheeses and mention them with such fondness it is very warming to hear. Even having nothing to do with the story of the company to date, a feeling of inclusion is invoked, making you feel as if you are part of it. You tried it first, you once met the guy who makes it, it is your go to cheese……. You tell them of a toastie you once made with Gallybagger or you ask them if they have tried the ‘Old Gaffers’ because you want them to know that you knew about it first. It just makes you feel proud and that is what local companies are all about. When you can see a business caring about the area in which it relies so heavily on for trade it makes you want to be a part of it. And you feel like you are.
This week I caught up with Richard over video and we talked about cheese and being an IOW business owner.
How long have you been in business now?
I started making the cheeses in 2006 so this is my fifteenth year as a cheesemaker.. more than a third of my life!
What was it that made you take that first step?
Back then in 2006, there was no one making cheese on the island. At the time, the local food movement was really building and seeing as there was no island cheese being made, we thought we’d try and create some. I’d been living away from the island for nearly 10 years when I made the decision to come back and start the business. And I had no cheesemaking experience either, so it was a bit of a gamble. But funnily, I’d be working in Newcastle with a lot of people who had started up businesses and part of my job was seeing how they developed. So I feel I came in to it with a bit of an insight in to what can and can’t work as a business idea.
What has been the most challenging thing in running a small business?
The most challenging thing about running a small business – I would say you need resilience. When you start from scratch and try to build a business so many things come at you and so many things have the potential to go wrong from time to time. You’re juggling all the balls and you’re learning on the spot. It can be overwhelming.
You have to be able to adapt quick, correct things and take all knock backs on the chin. My belief from the beginning was that if I could create a good product, then with a bit of determination it would all work.
What has been your biggest lesson learnt?
Biggest Lesson – You never stop learning with cheese. Most weeks you experience something either with the milk or the process that teaches you something that you didn’t know. Getting an understanding of the science behind cheesemaking was crucial in the beginning. There’s a lot of variables to play with, especially when making soft cheese and without that knowledge things could get messy. From a personal point of view, I perhaps wish I’d delegated responsibilities a bit earlier. For too many years it felt like I was living every hour of every day at the cheese company and that cost me big with family and friends.
What do you enjoy most about it?
Day to day, the thing I enjoy most is the fact that each day I make something that I’m proud of and that ties in with an overall sense of achievement. The business is established now, and each week we sell all across the south of the UK. We’ve won major awards at the World Cheese Awards and the British Cheese Awards as well as countless gold medals but I always feel humbled when people say they know and like the cheese that we make.
What is the importance to you in supporting local producers?
For an artisan cheesemaker or a cheesemaker on a small scale, I think it goes without saying that you want your product to have provenance that your customers can relate to. In cheese of course, the biggest ingredient is milk, so being able to source milk from the Isle of Wight is really important for me. We’re really fortunate that we’re able to buy excellent milk from two farms here on the island. We’ve always prided ourselves on paying a very good price for the milk. We hope that our customers know too that by buying our cheese, they are not only supporting our business but also the two island dairies who we buy from as well. The dairy sector in the UK has taken a hammering in recent years, and when customers buy local, more of their money feeds directly back to the producers and quicker too.
What is your favourite way to eat the Isle of Wight Blue?
I know cheese can be versatile, it’s one of the reasons why we love it right? But for me I’ll just have it spread straight on crusty bread or even brown toast.
If you weren’t a cheese-maker what would you have done?
I started this cheese journey when I was 26 and I said to myself that if it wasn’t going to work out then by the time I was 30 I would train to become a paramedic.
I think that’s what I would have done.
What’s next for IOW cheese?
I’ve committed to an extension at the dairy which will increase our floor space so that we can maintain and increase production but do it in less time.
Currently we’re cheesemaking 5 or sometimes 6 days a week and it can be a little relentless. This next move will enable us to make all of those productions in a day or two. It will need additional maturation rooms for the cheese and a lot of extra equipment but we’re ready to move up to the next level now.
Beyond that, there are plans in place to open the dairy to visitors. It’s always been my ambition to provide the local people of Queenbower, Winford, Apse Heath, Alverstone with a stop off where they can see what we do and enjoy refreshments too. With it will come a nice cheese counter as well where we can stock local artisan cheeses besides our own. Providing locals and tourists with a nice place to share in what we do will be the final piece in the jigsaw for me.
To download this recipe – download here.