Producer of the Month: Andy Swinscoe, The Courtyard Diary
The Courtyard Diary’s mission is to champion, select and age the best cheeses being made in Britain, working with and supporting small farmhouse producers
that still make traditional cheese. Cheeses are selected from farms by Andy Swinscoe, who has worked for some of the finest cheesemongers in England
Once selected the cheeses are aged on-site before being sold and championed through The Courtyard Dairy’s specialised cheese shop and mail order online.
The Courtyard Diary is fast becoming an outpost for the best cheese you can get, supporting and keeping alive those traditional farmers making traditional cheese with their own unpasteurised milk.
Why do you do what you do?
I love cheese! It all started when I visited a small farmhouse cheese maker in Scotland, Humphrey Errington. There I fell in love with this traditional method of small scale farming and making unpasteurised cheese. So, after a brief spell cheese ageing in France (where else?!) I came back to the UK and decided I wanted to work closer with these small farmers. It is a really interesting trade to work in – very open and friendly, and I still deal with small family farms. It is great how you can make sure a wide variety of interesting and amazing cheeses from one base product. These traditional farmers still making cheese also really capture the true nature of their farm – the cheese they make is unique to them. I see it as our job at The Courtyard Dairy to champion them, age their cheese for to them be in perfect condition before we sell it. I love telling people about these farms – they don’t have marketing budgets and vast quantities of cheese – they need someone to tell their story too.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy visiting the farms we work with. We try to get to most every couple of months to see how they doing and to select cheese. For me, seeing the farm and family that makes the cheese – from the breed of animals, right through the cheese making process – it is always interesting to watch and it creates an identity for that cheese for my staff as well. It is also good to see the transformation of a product. I love the hands on part when the cheese arrives; tasting it and noting down its characteristics so we can accurately see the changes we make by ageing it on site. How we start with unpasteurised milk, but can really capture each farms unique ‘terrior’ and story is what makes cheese so interesting. You can get an idea of why I love this part of my job from this video made on the last visit to Kirkham’s Lancashire: www.tinyurl.com/kirkhams
What do you enjoy least about your job?
We store a lot of cheese for ageing and some of it is backbreaking work to look after. The traditional cloth-bound Cheddar’s and Kirkham’s Lancashire we age are about 56lbs (approx. 25kg) in weight. Every two weeks they are all turned, brushed and ironed (to grade their flavour). It is necessary to ensure we age them properly, but hard and monotonous work to flip all the cheeses in a room that is dark, humid and cold…
What achievement are you most proud of?
Winning ‘Cheesemonger of the Year’ at The World Cheese Awards was a crowning glory as, firstly, they come and judge your shop and the quality of your cheese before being invited to the final. There, your skills are tested with rounds based on general knowledge, blind tasting, cutting and wrapping, presenting cheese, as well as displaying cheese in front of an audience. However, it is the day-to-day success of the shop and the fact the local community loyally comes back to support us and our traditional cheeses that makes me most proud.
Why should we buy British produce?
We produce some of the finest pasture, farming and therefore, food in the world; from tart gooseberries to rich whiskies. As well as it being quality made produce, buying British helps keep money in local and rural economies – where most of the food is made. It supports our farmers, fisherman and food producers. To me it is a no-brainer. The quality produce is out there and you can do your bit by forcing companies to stock it by requesting British.
How do you think we should be promoting British?
I think people are more aware of buying British, but don’t really think about it being ‘non-British’, especially when they pick up a pack of tomatoes or apples. I think country labelling should be made larger and clearer, so you can see exactly where the product is made – almost as big as the product name itself. Encouraging people to eat seasonally through recipe advice is also key. It means that in the winter they might not buy tomatoes, which can’t be British produced at that time, but will cook with an ingredient that is in season in the UK. Also, I think that if you show exactly whose British produce you are buying – the people and families that make it – then people can identify with it much more. I remember Mrs Kirkham (of Lancashire cheese fame) coming back from a nearby food hall overawed by the fact they had a giant cut-out of her. But they were showing exactly who made the cheese – putting an identity to it, and that is great!
If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
Help keep alive your local farm: buy British.
What's on the menu this evening?
I love doing food shows as I often get carried away at the other stalls. I’ve just come back from one with a thick dark Rye bread (Staff of Life Bakery in Kendal), Hot Smoked Haddock (Port of Lancaster Smokehouse) and fresh eggs (The Egg Hut). So tonight it is omelette Arnold Bennett…smoked haddock omelette, baked in cheese sauce made from buttery and tangy Hafod Cheddar, served on top of thinly sliced toasted rye bread.
How can people get hold of your produce?
If you cannot make it to the cheese shop in North Yorkshire, you can also buy cheese via mail order – where we sell individual cheese cuts, cheese gift selections and a monthly cheese club. Buy online at: www.thecourtyarddairy.co.uk