Here our Managing Director David Lockwood pays tribute to our friend and colleague Mary Holbrook.
I once said to a colleague that if I were to find a godparent for my children it would be Mary Holbrook. Understated, intelligent, inquisitive, stubborn and never accepting common wisdom without challenging it first. She was always teaching, fighting on the side of good and, when required, as tough as nails. Mary made goat milk cheeses with raw milk from her farm in Timsbury, near Bath. She made incredibly flavourful cheeses, young and aged, using methods that interested her. She used whey rather than a commercial starter, cardoon to coagulate the milk for her semi-soft cheese, Cardo, and traditional rennet for her other cheeses.
Despite being one of our most senior producers (she was 80), she was our most curious: always looking for the next question to help her better understand the cheese. While visiting producers throughout Europe she would explore different ways of making cheese. Once back at the farm, she would play with what she saw, making it her own. She was fearless, certainly never afraid of the cheese, or anything else as far as I could tell. Mary worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy on Wednesdays with our maturing team for years. This allowed her to keep in touch with what was happening with her cheeses as well as with other cheese we mature. The time she spent with us led to her developing many lasting friendships beyond cheese, often involving dinners and concerts, and these remain prized memories.
While Mary could appear gruff or impatient at times, she was deeply caring and inspirational. Caroline Auld (Stawley), Juliana Sedli (Baronet), William Oglethorpe (Kappacasein), Ross Burnett (Stichelton) and Martin Gott & Nicola Robinson (St James) have all continued making cheese after working with Mary. Additionally, she often had visitors to her farm, showing them how she farmed and made cheese. Many of our colleagues spent time making cheese at Sleight Farm and came back hugely inspired by how she never compromised her principles.
While I know she is gone, I keep expecting her to walk through the door.
David Lockwood, Feb 2019