Andy and Kathy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy, in North Yorkshire, sell exceedingly good cheese!
With their expert knowledge of the cheese making process, and their passion to seek out the best in world-class cheese, it is little wonder that they have a trophy cabinet of awards as well as being named twice as Cheesemonger of the Year, 2016 and 2018.
Michael Wilson, Head Chef of The Midland, recognises the taste, sight and smell of a really good cheese. That's why his shopping list includes several cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy.
We chatted to Andy from Courtyard Dairy to find out more about their success in the world of cheese.
Where did your passion for cheese come from?
"Many years ago I worked in fine-dining and we had an amazing cheeseboard. In those days, most of the best cheese came from France (except Cheddar and Stilton) and that really interested. I contacted our French supplier at the time and he said well if you want to know more, come and do an apprenticeship in cheese-maturing over here! I was young, had no ties and thought, why not! I learnt an awful lot about cheese and visited a great many small producers, all of which built my knowledge, so when I came back to the UK I could pick up a job fairly easily!"
... and your inspiration?
"There was quite a few, between John Dunning, my old Hospitality lecturer, a previous hospitality mentor, and Craig Sandle, the Head Chef where I worked at the time. They all really made me think seriously about going abroad to France and doing something interesting like that whilst I was young, even though I couldn't speak the language and didn’t really know anything about it. They encouraged me to just do it, and worry about it afterwards. I could always come back.
What really inspired me to finally make the jump though was a visit to one of Scotland's smallest farms - The Errington's. Seeing how they made cheese made me want to learn more about farmhouse cheese making and how one small farm can make a product truly unique to them."
What did it take to become Cheesemonger of the Year 2016, and 2018?
"Practice, but basically a love of what I do - to a geeky level - is what saw me through. I love the produce we stock, and who makes it, and I think that shone through."
How do you go about finding the best cheesemakers in the world?
"A lot of talking! Being involved in the industry, you tend to hear about newcomers fairly fast. We visit a lot of potential new cheesemakers and make sure we respond to every enquiry we get on email, or the phone. We also run cheese making courses, so we see producers at the very beginning, and can then help them from there.
I have been all over Europe to sample and grade cheese at farms. The furthest, longest journey was probably to Etivaz. It is a really special cheese, only made well above Ski resorts in the summer months. There is a really cool video about that journey above."
Criteria for success in all world-class cheesemakers?
"Dedication and attention to detail. From all the inputs - animal feed, breeding regime, milking techniques, housing techniques - and that is all before you even start making the cheese! Most of the best cheesemakers only make a single cheese-type so they can get to know that recipe inside out, and how it works seasonally with their milk."
Do you have a personal favourite?
"No, that would be like choosing a favourite child - yes I can choose, but it's not always the same one! There is nothing better than brie and crusty bread in the summer, yet nothing beats a pint of bitter, pork pie and a bit of Lancashire - and in the winter, blue cheese in front of a fire with a glass of red wine.... the variance is what makes it exciting."
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