Ribblesdale Cheese chat with: Gary Bradshaw, Hamm Tun Fine Foods, Northamptonshire, maker of Cobbler
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Tell us a bit about you
Gary, working his vat
I am Gary and I run and own Hamm Tun Fine Foods, based in Northamptonshire. Hamm Tun is an unusual and unique name, reflecting our heritage. In Saxon times, the village of Northampton was named Hamm Tun, which means village by the well-watered meadow. Later, North was added to the beginning forming North Hamm Tun which may have been to help differentiate it from Southampton.
Some people call us Cobblers Nibble, after the cheese I am best known for. I started making cheese probably about 10 years ago, just at home, as a hobby. I made some really nice cheeses and some very bad ones and started to show them to friends, who said they liked them, though I am not sure if they really did.
I took a cheese down to one of my friends who owns St Giles Cheese, a great cheese shop and deli in Northampton and that was when I found out that, at that time, there were no cheeses being made in Northants and they gave me great encouragement and said they would stock it if I ever went commercial.
I was working at the time and I really enjoyed making cheese at home, maturing them in my garage. Becoming a fully-fledged cheese maker seemed an incredibly daunting task and I was comfortable in my job, which I liked a lot, so I did not pursue things. Then I got made redundant, quickly found another job doing similar work, but they went bust and I got made redundant again: twice in a year.
I was Mac operator, creating art work for people to create business cards, flyers, promo brochures, I used to love that job, it was really interesting but I enjoy cheese making more. I used to do a few websites too. The company I worked for used to have the contract for Vodafone and Sky, we printed all the stuff that falls out of your newspaper at the weekend, football programmes for premier league clubs, very expensive printing. The print industry is dying, the internet has killed it, it has become so cheap to print digitally, and whilst I really enjoyed my former work, being made redundant a second time led me to become a cheese maker.
I love cooking, fine dining and my experience making cheese at home for all those years made me go online and look for cheese making courses. I found Ribblesdale Cheese and decided to do a course with them.
Immediately after doing the course, two weeks later, I found premises and signed a 2 year lease and bought a load of cheese making equipment, including a 200 litre vat from Jaap de Jong. About 2 months later I started to make cheese. I had to learn how to write a HACCP and did most of that myself and went out and got customers. I have pretty much sold everything I have made on a weekly basis.
Gary’s 2,000 litre vat
I made in the 200 litre vat for about 2 years. After that, I bought an 800 litre vat from a Devon cheese maker, it was a traditional, round Dutch vat and after I purchased it I realised that I had to carry 800 litres of milk into my unit in 20 litre buckets. This was not really viable, so I had a chat with the farmer I buy my milk from, who said he had an empty farm building that I could rent from him. The farmer did it all up, we did a deal, and I moved in there and that was 3 years ago.
I used my 800 litre vat for six months and realised it was not big enough. I applied for a grant which gave me 33% against the cost of equipment and bought a 2,000 litre vat from Brytec together with some pumps, a mould filler and I bought an ageing room which is a 75ft artic trailer with a refrigeration room on it, which was the easiest and cheapest way of getting a maturing room.
If not cheese making, I would definitely be working in the food industry in some capacity. Initially I was thinking of making cured meats and deli items as well cheese making, but I did not fully appreciate the time involved with the cheese making part. It is a bit different making 2kgs in your kitchen to making 200kgs in a dairy. The make time is the same, but the moulding up, maturing, piercing, wrapping and delivery etc. is much, much, more.
I do a lot of baking, bread making at home, I used to go down to Spurs a fair bit and watch them get beaten. Football, cooking and baking are my hobbies but I don’t get enough time to do these things any more. I used to go to good, expensive restaurants but sadly, I don’t do that anymore either, as cheese making is tough, you have to make a living and that involves putting the time in.
What do you make and why?
I make Cobblers Nibble, a little bit like a cheddar but a more acidic. The reason I make this is because it was one of the first cheeses I made
Cobblers Nibble Fresh
successfully and consistently, and the easiest cheese I could age. I have made Brie, but you can’t make that in the same environment. Cobblers Nibble is like a young cheddar, it has a natural rind which has a Stilton favour to it – really unusual.
I should have made a fresh young cheese, which would have been better financially, as it can be sold relatively quickly, but most of my cheeses are all aged to around five months.
I make a blue because I love blue cheese, though I had not made a lot of blue at home, there isn’t a blue cow’s cheese in Northamptonshire. Northampton Blue, aged about 3 months, is semi soft, it did start off a bit like a Cambozola, not like an English blue at all, it is more of a continental blue style, very creamy, with a subtle hint of blue and has a natural rind and a lot of flavour.
Little Bertie is like a small Camembert, with a blue mould on the outside, it has the initial texture of a Camembert, with a blue aftertaste from the mould, the rind is blue instead of white, but it is not blue inside.
I am planning to make new cheeses in the New Year as I want to offer a wider range of cheese to customers. I do a smoked cheese, I smoke it myself on the farm. I cut it in half and oak smoke it for 9 hours and pack for 4 weeks to give the smoke more chance to develop flavour. I used to have someone else smoke it but now I do it myself: the smoker cost me £35 and £3 in wood chips, it is really easy to set up, very efficient and makes a great cheese!
Tell us about your dairy: where is it, what do you have in it, favourite bits of kit, things you would like to change (if anything) or something that would make your life better/easier
We are in an old building on the dairy farm, in Hannington, where my milk comes from. My dairy used to house two bulk storage tanks. It is a compact room and gets really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter. I am so pleased to be making on a dairy farm. The milk is piped straight into the dairy, it travels about 40 ft from the milking parlour to the bulk tank to my pasteuriser. That is a pretty short supply chain!
The farmer I rent from has a Friesian and Jersey herd and processes and sells his milk locally.
I have my 2,000 litre vat, a pneumatic press to press 200kgs of cheese, I have an automatic filler that I bought from Brytec for the blue cheese, so the curd is gently pumped into the moulds which saves a lot of time, though it takes a fair bit of time to clean it down. I have a pneumatic Asta-Eismann piercing machine which I bought from Jaap, which is a huge time saver as I used to pierce all my blue cheese by hand. It was not that expensive, about £1,000, and was a no brainer for me, so I can cut my time by a third compared to doing to it by hand. When you are piercing 100kgs by hand, it takes about 3 hours.
There are two pieces of kit I would love that would make life easier, and quicker. First, I would really like a commercial dishwasher to help with all the washing up and secondly, a large vac packer because my current one only fits 3 x 100g portions in it. I can send my cheese to be contract packed, but it is a little expensive and adds to the cost of a pack of cheese.
How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheese maker? And what would you say your current challenges are?
I think the industry has changed, there are a lot more vegans and alternative eaters around, people shying away from cheese; cheese has got a lot of a bad press recently.
There are also a lot more artisan cheese makers now, than there were 5 years ago and this gives rise to a greater variety so people can pick and choose what they want. It feels a lot harder to sell cheese now, maybe because I have expanded beyond Northamptonshire or maybe because there are more cheese makers around.
My advice to new cheese makers: really research what cheese you are going to be making and get the equipment specifically for that cheese. I bought a lot with second-hand equipment which was not, with hindsight, the best type for the job. I made do with old stuff that was not totally suitable and was a little detrimental to the product.
Think about scaling up, I have cheeses that are difficult to make as they are natural rinded. It is one thing when you are making at home, experimenting, on a small-scale, but when you are suddenly making 200kgs a week, it becomes a lot more difficult to manage, so my advice is to always think about scaling up, especially when developing new products and what you need to do for them on a bigger scale.
Think about the type of cheese you are going to make. If you are going to have to age a cheese for months, it is maybe a good idea to have another cheese that you can sell quite quickly, as cash flow is something you can struggle with; if you are waiting for 5 months to get the money in for your cheese, it can be worrying.
Go on plenty of courses and join the SCA as they are quite helpful especially when writing up your HACCP and to know what kind of testing you need to do. Talk to other people, if you go on a farm visit, talk to other cheese makers, you get so much good advice.
I made the mistake of going on the internet looking for answers and there is a lot of misinformation out there, but if you talk to someone with 15 years+ experience, they can always help you.
Don’t go into thinking you are going to be a millionaire, as it is never going to happen!
My biggest challenge is scaling up. Before, I was making small quantities of cheese and selling in Northamptonshire because I was the only cow cheese maker in the county and people were willing to pay a premium for my product; now I am expanding outside the area, there is more competition. Another issue is the cost of my milk. It is not my milk and I cannot do anything about the milk price and that impacts the price of the cheese.
I also hate doing accounts and I hate the bit where I have to chase up money, as some customers can be extremely tardy and it can be incredibly difficult to get people to pay. I find it really hard, but am trying to find someone to do it for me, this aspect of running a business is not something I enjoy.
Where can we find your cheese?
Favourite cheese making music?
I like Richard Hawley, he is from Sheffield, used to be in an indie band in the 90s, then he joined Pulp; he is a bit of a crooner. Other than that, I generally listen to BBC Radio 6.
Name: Gary Bradshaw, Hamm Tun Fine Foods/Cobblers Nibble