An interview with Sam Holden: maker of Hafod cheese
An interview with Sam Holden; cheese-maker of the fabulous Hafod cheese! Find out what Sam loves on the food scene, the ethos for his business and his recommendations on the best places to eat and shop for food!
Brief synopsis of your business & career?
Rachel and I met a University in London, where we stayed after graduating.
Rachel worked for Sainsbury’s, in their press office. I worked as an account manager for a small design agency on the Old Kent Road.
After 10 years of London grind we had both had had enough and wanted to do something else, but we didn’t know what.
What made you get into doing what you do?
Cheesemaking was a bit of an accidental career change – a series of coincidences. We were back at my Dad’s farm in the summer of 2005 when there was a visit by a delegation from the Specialist Cheesemakers Association. They had come to look at the farm’s diverse pastures. Our farm is one of the longest established organic farms in the UK and therefore, never been exposed to artificial manmade fertilizers. This visit prompted my Dad to re-examine his long-standing wish to convert the milk from the farm’s 65 Ayrshire cows into cheese – rather than selling it at a loss. I suppose it was a case of us walking through the door as he had this thought, so he asked us if we would be up for it!
What is your philosophy for your food/business?
Someone told us years ago that there will be many forces (marketing, shows, markets, etc.) that will pull us away from our core business – of making good cheese. He was right – and we often succumbed to these forces. Having learnt the hard way, we now try to focus on being here and making the best possible cheese we can. If we can do a good job of this, the cheese should sell itself.
Describe a typical working day.
It’s a fairly long day. We arrive at 6.30am, in time to receive the milk, still warm from the mornings milking (our herdsman starts at 4am!).
While we allow the milk to acidify and set into a junket, we remove the cheese made the previous day from the press and prepare it for its year-long maturation.
We then cut the junket, forming curds and whey. By mid day, and several cups of strong coffee, we have heated, then drained the curd from the whey. Then follows two hours of ‘texturing’, at the end of which, the curd has transformed into golden velvety sheets. These are then milled into small chunks and salt is stirred through before being loaded into the moulds and pressed. Finally, we get the place spic and span (cheesemaking involves a lot of washing up), ready for the whole process to start again. All in all, making the cheese takes about 10 and a half hours. Of course, there’s another year of turning, rubbing, etc, before it’s ready to eat.
What’s the best part of your job? And do you have a favourite memory from work?
It’s particularly satisfying making something that is intended to bring people pleasure. We are our own worst critics, but when we get it right, it’s very satisfying when it all comes together. But another joy of cheesemaking are the other cheesemakers – they are a wonderful bunch of people.
When you are at home what is your staple dish for the family?
We have two young children, so we eat a lot of pasta in one form or another – with lots Hafod of course!
What is your favourite place to go eat (if you’re not eating at yours!)?
We don’t get out much and when we do, we’re usually on a cheese related trip. This often takes us to some wonderful places, with great food. Being cooked the most amazing fondue at a French hill fort that is now home to 300,000 wheels of the finest Comte was pretty special. But to be honest, it’s hard to beat sitting on the harbour wall in Aberaeron and having fish and chips with the family.
Do you have a favourite cheese at the moment? If so, why is it your favourite?
If you had to choose a drink to go with cheese what would it be? and why?
A really good apple juice works very well with our cheese. Alcohol wise, I’d probably go for a hoppy beer – maybe something from the Kernel brewery.
Where do you look for inspiration in your business?
From people in the industry – both makers and mongers. There are a few out there who are constantly seeking to improve the quality of proper cheese, and I find their enthusiasm infectious.
I also want to do the milk justice, as we see how much hard work goes into producing it.
What couldn’t you live without?
To eat – sourdough bread. For work, good milk! It goes without saying how fundamental the quality of the milk is to cheesemaking. And that includes everything, from what the cows eat to what music they like to be milked to!
What is the best success you’ve had with your product?
We are very proud that Hafod is on the shelves of some of the best cheese mongers in the world.
What is your plans for the future?
We would like to be using all the farm’s milk. We’re currently using 70%, so we’re nearly there. After that, we just want to master what we’re doing. I understand from other cheesemakers that this is a futile pursuit!