“Because I always wanted to”

It’s my third year at Cheese Berlin. I’m looking forward to the offerings of Cheese Curators Neil’s Yard (Lond0n) and Käse Kober (Besdorf, in very Northwest, Germany) and to the cheesemakers themselves. I arrive when the doors open so that I have a better chance to have conversations. I’m systematic. Turn left and follow the maze.

The first person I meet is Dajana Lemic, the young owner of Nana Kaas. Her parents, “like everyone in Bosnia-Herzegovina”, owned plenty of land, but didn’t farm. When she dropped out of college, she realized she wanted to “work with animals and nature”. So she started a goat farm with two other young people.

Next I came across Antonin and Anett deVries, whose mild young German “pecorino” I remember from last year. He’s Dutch, she’s German. After the wall came down they moved to East Germany and in 1992 started a dairy farm. Eventually they wanted their own enterprise, but dairy farming is very expensive. They realized they could better afford sheep. In 2006 they bought their land and named the Käserie after their son, Jaare. They learned to make cheese by visiting Dutch operations and learning by doing. “Do you love it?” I asked. “Of course.”

At the Piemontese Cheese stand, I taste Castelmagno and learn that although it is now described as the King of Cheese, it was originally a poor people’s cheese. Which meant that because they had few animals, they had to mix the morning and evening milk. This means they had to break the cheese in order to add the newer milk, and this results in a crumbly texture.

Next I meet one of the three corporate refugee owners of Oudwijker. He had been 25 years running Randstad the largest temp agency in Italy. Another partner was an executive at Philipps, and the third (who is now the cheese innovator) was a corporate chemist. (She locks herself in a room for a week and comes out with a new cheese. “I have it!”) They are joined by the son of the Chemist, who is clearly proud of the operation. The Chemist’s wife writes books about handcraft in Italy. He was inspired. He tried making beer. “No, I don’t want you make beer. We have a son!” She objected. “Then I got to Chapter 4. It was about cheese.” To this, career she consented. The son tells me they are using “Egyptian Water Buffalo” from 9 local farms. They make a blue cheese, one based on taleggio and two cheeses identical except for the introduction of different moulds.

Tom Calver of Westcombe Cheddar also has a special story: “I never wanted to be in the family business. So I went to London. I was cooking for Barclay’s Bank. But those people were both very demanding and not very appreciative. I went back to the farm. I was just helping with sales at first, but then I was drawn into the dairy and quality. We had been making cheese since 1879 but by the 1990s we were very big. The cheese wasn’t very good. We were producing a very cheap cheese, we had to sell a lot of it. We couldn’t survive on the price of milk. For the cheese, we were buying milk from 32 farms. In fact the trucks to bring the milk and to take away that quantity of cheese couldn’t fit through the streets of the village any more. So my dad decided to make a change. He decided to get smaller. It was a five year transition. He decided to make a good cheese. Instead of fancy adverts, make the quality better. Randall from Neil’s Yard helped. He came every month to taste the cheese until he found it was good enough. Now we have 9 workers, and half of them are under 30. We are educating people about cheese and sustainable farming practices. At first we only hired people locally, but now people like Herdsman Nick come here to learn with us. We’re going to make a Caerphilly called Ducket’s.”

Tom’s Cheddar shares a staging area with Tom Cropp’s Corleggy, and Mike Thompson’s Young Buck. The Irish Presidium also includes Peter MacDonald’s Blues Creamery, which produces raw sheep cheeses named after the district, Cooidawd, in Cork.

Peter told me that after 20 years of dairy and 10 years of mushrooms he started making cheese. “Why?” “Because I always wanted to. It’s an absolutely fantastic experience.”