Based at his own farm at Queenbower Dairy, near Apse Heath, Richard Hodgson of The Isle of Wight Cheese Company has a herd of 35 cows and uses as much of their milk as possible to make the cheese. When he’s short, he tops up with milk from Briddlesford Lodge Farm. The cheeses are hand-made by Richard.
Richard grew up on the Island, left for university and then returned to set up the cheese company in 2006 from scratch with his mother, who with his father had run a hotel on the Island. ‘It was the mid-2000s and the food revolution was just taking off. I thought that if that if we produced something palatable we could do well,’ he recalls. ‘The Island dynamic is interesting – people here do have a strong allegiance to local produce and if it’s good they will be proud of it and support it.’
Richard attended a couple of short cheese-making courses at agricultural college and returned to start work, armed with the basic knowledge. The science, however, can only take you so far. What’s apparent is that the cheeses are produced with a great deal of thought and care. ‘I’ve proved a novice can make cheese,’ he laughs, modestly.
The reality is that there is more to it. ‘Pretty much anyone could learn to make something that is palatable,’ he says, ‘but it takes years to get the feel for dealing with the variables.
‘You are using all your senses, from handling the cows, to the smell and the look of the cheese. I could buy some expensive equipment but the cheese wouldn’t have a soul. You buy mass produced cheese and it is homogenous. It tastes the same all year round because that’s what customers want. My cheeses taste different according to what the cows have eaten, whether its fresh grass or sileage. Cheeses are full of enzymes, they’re alive. The key is getting that across to the public.’
One of the latest products is Blue Slipper (named after the local moniker for the Island’s gault clay) and which is mild, milky and, rather like the cliffs that contain the clay, collapses easily and gracefully under pressure.
Blue Slipper is sold at three to five weeks of age. Other cheeses include the pasteurised Isle of Wight Blue. Other cheeses include the hard cheeses Gallybagger and Gallybagger Mature, made entirely from raw milk.
The cheeses are widely sold across the Island but Richard has a small shop window at the farm. Press the bell and wait (patiently). ‘We never presumed we would be as popular as we are,’ he says, ‘so it’s usually me who answers the bell in between making the cheese. I never want to give the impression I’m too busy to meet people.’