We receive lots of enquiries from farmers and non-farmers alike about resources available for those who wish to embark on the path of making their own cheese professionally. Here, our cheese buyer Bronwen Percival offers some guidance and advice for those who want to turn their passion for cheese into a cheesemaking career.
Do your research
Experience has shown that the best and most successful cheeses are made by people who take the time to do extensive research before starting their business. This often includes reading books, making contact with and visiting existing cheesemakers whose cheeses they admire, doing internships at farms and/or creameries, working a Christmas season with us, and making experimental cheeses on a tiny scale at home using the best materials they can get ahold of.
Knowledge gained in this way is inexpensive compared to the cost of making the wrong decisions, particularly when it comes to the infrastructure required to set up a cheese business. My advice: spend time lavishly at this stage, and your business plans will come together much more quickly and successfully later.
Join a professional organisation
The Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) is the industry body that represents artisan and farmhouse cheesemakers in the UK. Joining as an associate member is inexpensive and gives you access to valuable resources, including the Assured Code of Practice, which lays the groundwork for creating a robust quality system and a legally compliant cheese business, and a quarterly newsletter with producer profiles, classifieds, and technical and legislative updates. The organisation also offers a technical advice service for members and grant schemes to help aspiring cheesemakers build their knowledge.
Industry organisations that Neal’s Yard Dairy is a member of which have interesting resources available online include the Raw Milk Producers Association, the American Cheese Society, and Oldways Cheese Coalition. Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but I’d also suggest visiting the Sustainable Food Trust, Pasture for Life, the Agriculture Horticulture Development Board and Cotswold Seeds for info on herbal leys etc.
Social media accounts and podcasts
Social media is a great place explore the world of cheesemaking. In addition to the accounts of many of the cheesemakers we buy from, I recommend the account of @herdsmannick at Westcombe Dairy. Farmerama Radio and Jenny Linford’s podcast series A Slice of Cheese are also well worth a listen. The forthcoming Westcombe Project podcast series produced by Sam Wilkin is also likely to be interesting.
Go to an event
The Science of Artisan Cheese Conference is a two-day conference co-sponsored by Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Specialist Cheesemakers Association. It brings together cheesemakers and scientists for discussion of current research in farming, biodiversity, microbiology, and cheesemaking techniques. The next conference will be held in August 2022.
Organised by Slow Food and the City of Bra, Cheese is the world’s biggest international event dedicated to raw-milk cheeses and other dairy products, held in the Piedmontese town that’s also home to Slow Food’s international headquarters.
Meeting and talking with a variety of cheesemakers is a great way to get a sense of what the day-to-day life of a cheesemaker is like, and the different scopes and sizes of businesses that are out there. The SCA runs an annual farm visit weekend each summer; it is a perfect place for networking and arranging to visit cheesemakers in person.
Take a class
Jump-start your learning by taking a class for amateur or professional cheesemakers. For a professional deep-dive, we particularly recommend the weeklong classes taught by Ivan Larcher or Paul Thomas at the School of Artisan Food.
Pre-pandemic, Neal’s Yard Dairy also ran daylong cheesemaking workshops on a regular basis, which were designed for people who have never made cheese before and are looking for a hands-on introduction. Check our socials for information on our upcoming workshop schedule.
Get professional help
Ivan Larcher, Consultant
We have worked with Ivan for many years and his guidance has been integral to the success of many famous new British cheeses. In addition to daylong site visits, he also offers a distance advice service. Get in touch if you’d like us to connect you with him.
Based in Berlin, Paul Thomas offers dairy consultancy and training for new cheese development, troubleshooting, and food safety management systems.
The Specialist Cheesemakers Association Technical Committee includes advisors who can assist with developing a quality system. Contact the Association for more information.
Samples and feedback
We are delighted to taste samples of cheeses from new and aspiring cheesemakers, and on occasion, we can arrange for a tour of our cheese maturing facility in Bermondsey and to discuss how your cheesemaking plans compare to our areas of projected growth and cheese needs. If you choose to send samples, please get in touch with our buying department through the contact form, providing the following information:
- Your name and location
- The stage in the process you have reached (operational cheese business or scoping)
- Any classes or courses taken or books read on cheesemaking that have influenced you
- Whether you are a member of the SCA
- The type of cheese you are making/planning to make:
- Type of animal and type of farming system and how it is suited to cheesemaking
- Farmhouse or artisan production (and approximate scale)
- Raw or pasteurised milk
- Style of cheese
We look forward to hearing from you!