This blog comes from our colleague Thea, who is part of our Ecommerce team. Thea had the pleasure of leading on the project to create some new products to mark the occasion of our 40th birthday. Here she tells the story of how we came to create the 40th Birthday cheese knife.
Back in March, Neal’s Yard Dairy's 40th Birthday was looming, and we were looking to create something to commemorate how far we have come as a company. Our aim was to offer a product that would both mark the occasion, whilst also being something that would last forever. A cheese knife seemed like the obvious object: something that our colleagues and customers could treasure, and use when they enjoy our cheese year after year.
We knew one thing: we wanted the handles to be made out of the former Colston Bassett Stilton shelves we had in our midst, now disused for cheese maturing but still in very good nick. The next step was to work out who we would collaborate with.
Through research and word-of-mouth, we were led to local Blenheim Forge, based just a few miles away from us in Peckham. Bladesmith Jon Warshawsky came to visit us in Bermondsey, and we ate some cheese together and began to workshop what kind of design we would ideally like to see. We talked about what shape the knife should be; how big; what kind of materials would be needed to complete the handle and the blade. It became clear that we wouldn’t like to use an iron clad knife, as the iron would leave black marks along the cheese: not an ideal or appetising side effect. The acid in the cheese also didn’t react well with the iron when left for prolonged periods. Given that a cheese knife is often in use for hours, while dinner party guests languidly pick at a cheese board at the end of a meal, we decided we would opt for a stainless-steel blade.
Jon’s next step would be to make some prototypes that we could test with the cheese. It was important to us to ensure we chose a knife that felt comfortable in the hand; one that wasn’t too weighty or bulky. We wanted a knife large enough to break into a wedge of Stilton or Cheddar, but one that also wasn’t too large to cut into a dainty St Jude or Brightwell Ash.
When Jon had created the prototypes, I went to visit the forge, which I conveniently walk past on my way to work. Jon had created three designs: a mini cleaver style, a knife that is very similar in size and shape to the finished knife you see here, and a smaller style in the shape of a hunting knife. (The knife on the left of the phoot is another of Blenheim Forge's range, for scale). We selected the longer and slightly larger shape (third from the left) because we wanted a knife that was of an adequate size to be used across a range cheese types and sizes. We wanted a knife whose use value was such that it would be an everyday cheese utensil. The bigger size fit the bill.We were very happy with the zig-zag pattern which Jon had devised to make the most out of the beautiful Colston Bassett wood. A very time consuming process, the wood was sliced into pieces of just a few millimeters in thickness and then stacked and glued together one-by-one to create the distinctive chevron pattern. To stabilise the handle the wood was soaked in a resin ‘bath’. The band between the wood and the blade (in our Neal’s Yard Dairy navy and white) is made of a sustainably sourced paper-based fiber called Richlite.
The blade is made from high carbon Swedish stainless steel (Sandvik 14C28N). Each blade has been tempered to a high hardness and ground very thin in order to achieve the best cutting ability, before being ready to be attached to the wooden handle. Any space between the metal handle and the wooden handle was filled with a resin to further stabilise it. And there you have it.
This was a delightful project to work on, and we are so pleased with the results. If you were one of the lucky 40 to secure one, we hope you will be very happy with your Blenheim Forge cheese knife. And if you missed out, watch this space. There might just be more where these came from...