An interview with Hugh Padfield from World Cheese Champions the Bath Soft Cheese Company

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th November 2014
IMG_8283_(640x427)West of England cheese makers the Bath Soft Cheese Company beat off competition from more than 2700 cheese varieties to become World Champion at the World Cheese Awards on Friday. Their classic blue vein cheese, Bath Blue, made it through three rounds of judging before being chosen as a winner by a Supreme Panel of judges and beating competitors from the UK and Croatia to the top spot. The family-run company started making cheese in 1993 from an old recipe found from books in the local library, including Admiral Nelson’s official documents and papers. We spoke to Hugh Padfield from the company, based at Park Farm in Kelston, just outside Bath, about its history and what it feels like to win the award. How long have you been making cheese for? We’ve been dairy farming here since 1914 and all our cheese is made from organic milk from our own cows. My great grandmother made cheese on the farm, took cheese lessons and took cheese to her local market, predominantly cheddar, but like many dairy farmers we stopped producing cheese. My father started focusing on the cheese business again in 1993, following the deregulation of the milk market. I got involved five years ago and between us we’ve managed to almost triple the size of the business in the last five years.3 x bath blue And for how long have you been producing the award-winning cheese, Bath Blue? We’ve been experimenting with it for about seven years. Around 2000 my father wanted to make a hard cheese, and so he experimented with a few hard cheese recipes, which became our Wife of Bath cheese. As I came into the business, we started to talk about how it would be nice to have a blue cheese to compliment that, because we’re big fans of the Stilton cheeses. A lot of people say that blue cheese is the hardest cheese to make, and we did find it quite a challenge over the first few years. Our cheese is quite a creamy blue cheese – it doesn’t have the sharpness that sometimes puts people off blue cheese. Over the years it’s got better and better and over the last two years, it’s been one of our most popular cheeses, but winning the World Cheese Awards did take us by surprise! Do you think you’ve hit upon the perfect recipe now? We’re very happy with the recipe, but the thing about blue cheese is it’s very sensitive to variations – the temperature, the timings, the diet of the cows all affect how the cheese develops. Also our blue cheese is still very handmade, with little equipment and so all these things lead to significant variation from one batch to the next. But I think people who love their artisan cheese enjoy that variation and enjoy the fact that they are tasting something that reflects what the cows are eating and what the weather’s like at the time. IMG_8307_(640x427)What was your reaction to being declared World Champion? We were absolutely delighted. We’ve all been working hard here to improve the quality of our cheese and it’s incredible to get such recognition. There are so many fantastic cheeses out there, and to be told that yours is the best is truly incredible and a lovely compliment. It made everybody that works at Bath Soft Cheese very happy and very pleased. How will the win affect your business? We’ve been growing quite strongly in the last five years and we’ve just made a major investment in a new cheese dairy to cope with the growing demand we’ve had. This has really come at a great time for us because the dairy should be coming into production in the New Year, so we’ll be able to make a lot more cheese and keep a lot more people happy, and can confidently make a return on our investment. We’ve been growing in the UK but haven’t exported much, beyond a small amount of our Wyfe of Bath cheese. An award like this really opens doors in terms of exports to the overseas market, because it allows us to not just give them our opinion, but that we’ve been recognised as potentially the best cheese in the world. What are some of your favourite cheeses?Wyfe of Bath Maturing In terms of the Stilton cheeses, I think Cropwell Bishop make a lovely blue cheese. Westcombe Cheddar make fantastic cheese. There’s something very special about a really nice cheddar. Interesting that those are both British. Yes, I guess I am quite patriotic! The thing is, when you’re in the British cheese scene, when you don’t have your own cheese on the table, it’s often someone that you know. Do you think you might expand beyond soft cheese in the future? Our Wyfe of Bath cheese is a semi-hard cheese, and so what we’ve got is effectively a small cheeseboard. The variety we’re making here is more than most cheesemakers of our side would attempt, because normally people go down the route of just blue cheese, just soft cheese or just semi-hard cheese. Doing a Stilton-like cheese, a Camembert-like cheese and a Gouda-like cheese is quite ambitious in ourselves and we’d really like to make sure we’re at the top of our game for all of those before we go into another market. To find out more about Bath Soft Cheese, head here. By Stuart Armstrong

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th November 2014

An interview with Hugh Padfield from World Cheese Champions the Bath Soft Cheese Company