An interview with David Jowett: maker of Rollright Cheese
Brief synopsis of your business & career?
We began experimental cheesemaking on the 9th March 2015, and began to sell cheese in August 2015 The cheese dairy itself was built a few years ago by my business partner, and King Stone Farm manager, Antony Curnow, but lay in dormancy until this year, when we joined forces to start making Rollright cheese.
What made you get into doing what you do?
I think I was always going to work with food in the countryside. They are my two biggest passions. After training in culinary arts, and having an internship at Claridge’s lined up and waiting for me, I had a last minute change of heart, and decided that rather that do cheffing in the city, I’d go to Ram Hall Farm, and spend six weeks learning about making Berkswell cheese, and milking sheep. I had been working part time at Paxton & Whitfield, so I knew Berkswell cheese well, and cheese was grabbing my attention in a serious way. I know many cheesemakers happen on their chosen career quite by accident, but for me, it’s been a rather direct and focused career path. I spent a year studying at the School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire, and interned at Stichelton, Neal’s Yard, and Jasper Hill in Vermont. After graduating, I returned to Paxton & Whitfield for a period of time, and soon became cheesemaker for Gorsehill Abbey Farm in Worcestershire, making their range of farmhouse cheeses, which provided great practical experience of farm cheesemaking.
What is your philosophy for your food/business?
Continuous improvement. Whether this be the characters of the cheese (flavour, texture etc.), or a richer understanding of the microbial make-up of our cheese, I believe we will always find new avenues to explore and ways to improve our cheese.
Describe a typical working day.
Antony gets the cheesemaking starter prepared this around 5a.m by warming the culture in UHT milk, and incubating it to make a thick yoghurt. By 9am, the cheeseroom is fully set up and at 10am, and we should have 800 litres of milk pasteurised and in the cheese vat. Around midday, the starter culture, soon followed by the rennet will have been added to the milk and the milk have begun its fermentation.
Around 13:00, and we’ll be cutting the curd. Once cut, the curd is very slowly stirred by hand to release the whey and heal the individual curd particles. When we’re happy with the curd, we’ll start moulding, which is a mad rush to get 120 plastic moulds filled with the curd in as short a space of time as possible!
Usually, we have cheese draining by mid-afternoon. The cheese room is cleaned, and tasks such as turning young cheese, and rind washing the two previous week’s Rollright cheesemakes can happen. Usually the day is over by around 19:30. Its then home for supper and to get on with paperwork and invoicing.
What’s the best part of your job? And do you have a favourite memory from work?
Working in the most beautiful part of the country is a pretty special thing. From the cheese diary, we overlook a vast swath of the north Cotswolds. It is really stunning, especially at sunrise and sunset.
When you are at home what is your staple dish for the family?
I cook a lot of pulses – dried white beans, speckled Borlotti, fat butter beans, and green flecked lentils du Puy. I adore them, and I’m sure they are ever so good for us. I tend the start it off with onions, carrots, celery and garlic softening in olive oil or butter, with additions of thyme, bay, cured pork or over-ripe tomatoes, depending on what is to hand. Chicken or vegetable stock, and the pulses, soaked as required, and slowly braised until tender and this is completely delicious. I drain off any cooking liquid and add sherry vinegar, lemon zest, a very green olive oil, and chopped parsley and there is a dish of really nice, simple food, either to eat as is, or with any manner of things. I especially like this with roast partridge or pumpkin, goats curd and fresh tomatoes, or sausages and black kale.
What is your favourite place to go eat (if you’re not eating at yours!)?
I love the Kingham Plough and the Chequers at Churchill, both a stone’s throw from here. Emily Watkins at the Kingham Plough has a very sympathetic approach to seasonality in her kitchen, it is very sensible, and very clever cooking, and a really great pub.
A little further afield in Chipping Camden is the Chef’s Dozen, where Richard Craven cooks beautifully, and his wife Sol runs front of house exceptionally slickly. When in London, I gravitate to either the Canton Arms, or the Camberwell Arms. Their sharing dishes of slow cooked lamb neck, kid shoulder or rabbit are delicious.
Do you have any other hidden foodie gems you think are worth people knowing about – shops, producers or otherwise?
We are truly very lucky around here to have such an amazing network of food producers. A couple of miles away in Stourton, the Cotswolds Distillery make a really delicious gin scented with Bay, Cardamom and Lavender. For pork, it’s Paddocks Farm, where Nick and Jon Francis produce wonderful Tamworth pork, and make very good sausages and bacon too. Drinkwater’s in Chipping Campden for the freshest vegetables; Cackleberry farm in Stow-on-the-Wold for eggs; and the best coffee from Monsoon Estates Roastery, on the Alscot Estate near Stratford-upon-Avon. In Oxford, Number 2 North Parade is a beautiful little shop, full of very carefully chosen food.
Do you have a favourite cheese at the moment? If so, why is it your favourite?
It is October – of course I’m so excited for the return of Vacherin! I love the cheeses made by Sancey Richard. By far the best Vacherin I’ve had.
If you had to choose a drink to go with cheese what would it be? and why?
I’m really enjoying drinking ciders with cheese at the moment, especially with Cheddars, Appleby’s Cheshire, Kirkham’s Lancs, or even young fresh goat’s milk cheeses. Maybe that is partly a seasonal thing. With all the apples ripening so well, I’ve got apples on my mind and it feels right to be drinking cider. Not too far from here is Isaac and Jo Nixon who press local cider apples to go into their Prior’s Tipple cider. Their Yarrington Mill single varietal is superb – such a well-structured and complex apple.
Where do you look for inspiration in your business?
Whenever I’m buying cheese in a cheesemongers, or talking with other cheesemakers, I always think how wonderful it is to be working in this community. To be part of the world of artisan cheese production is a pretty inspirational thing, and the great range of cheeses from across the UK is an awe-inspiring thing.
What couldn’t you live without?
Garlic and thyme. Two cornerstones of northern European country cooking.
What is the best success you’ve had with your product?
We’re so new, and still finding our feet. As is Rollright cheese… but we’re selling cheese to some really great people. There were many times when it really felt as if we’d never reach this point. Not to sound complacent – we’re barley fledging.
What is your plans for the future?
I’d really love for us to learn about the microbial ecology of our rinds. Unlike many washed rind cheeses, we don’t add any surface-ripening mircoborganisms to the cheese, but instead rely on the micro-flora native to where we are to develop on the cheese surface, and give us flavour typical of our cheese. So i’d love to know what’s growing on there!