When I worked at M&S we had recurrent campaigns which were based around celebrating the producers of our product. Sometimes it was ‘Meet the Farmer’ and others ‘For the love of food…’ but always a connection to what makes food great. Nowadays, knowing the producer has become almost more important than the variety or product itself with food media clamouring to find the heroes of the food world, so that they can build a story that excites you, the public. I guess that’s why just such a campaign appears in most supermarkets these days.

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I am a big advocate of story telling and I am normally pretty inspired when I see the people who are involved in my industry. It’s not an easy industry to work in and generally is not one to drive great wealth or indeed fame. Working with food is hard graft. It is a 24/7 thing and often has to be addressed at pace as a food product is either growing, or charging head first towards its expiry date.

I was having an interesting conversation the other week about the people the food industry attracts with Orlando Murrin, who used to be the Editor of BBC Good Food magazine, founded Olive magazine and is now a respected trainer & consultant in the field. We were discussing the different characters working in various industries. Without being too cliched about it, the Devil Wears Prada-esque fashionistas are all too familiar to us and inevitably the beauty industry attracts its own unique people by default as you are selling beauty. Menswear are apparently unique in other ways and home…well I won’t go on. But we both agreed that the food industry was different and that those working here are generally good honest folk just trying to do good.

So when my path crosses with someone that I know as a hero in my food world, I am normally a little in awe. They are generally a little bit arrogant, incredibly obsessive, single minded, opinionated and went into their field for something oh so much more than the money. They genuinely wanted to do a good thing by food. It might be rearing animals, producing yummy things or creating a fabby food experience, but it always has a reason and cause which is compelling to me.

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Thus it was fascinating to spend time this weekend with Charles Martell, he of Stinking Bishop fame. Mr. M was once a livestock driver who encountered the Gloucester cow in 1972 and was hooked. He discovered that there were literally only 68 of these cows left in the world and knew that someone had to do something. Here lies the first lesson of our food hero. Most of us wouldn’t even give it a second thought and even if we did, would not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. But thank God for people like Mr. M. He made it his life’s work to save the cows indigenous to his British home county of Gloucestershire, starting with a small herd that he nurtured on his farm in Dymock.

He knew that these cows produced great cheese making milk so started a business making cheese with absolutely no experience whatsoever, creating a Double Gloucester from the Gloucester cow that naturally caught the imagination of the aforementioned food media. From such humble beginnings grew a dairy that now creates both single and double Gloucester, but also the now famous  Stinking Bishop cheese – officially the UK’s smelliest cheese. Charles was instinctively creating his story every single day simply because he was making great decisions about his business. The Stinking Bishop process was created through trial and error harking back to the history of the Cistercian monks who used to make cheese that way. And now it is a multi award winning cheese.

“If you make something that you are proud of, … something with a story and a purpose, people will travel to get their hands on it.”

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He chose to use local perry to wash the rind and that not only gives the unique smell but also adds to the flavour of the cheese. Latterly a similar process was used for his ewe’s milk Nuns of Caen, washing this with their own vintage pear spirit. I can vouch for the fact that this is a little milder than the original but just as soft and absolutely addictive. No wonder it won the award for best modern British cheese in the British Cheese Awards this year.

After saving the local cows, Charles went on to further the legacy of the local apple, plum and pear trees which are so integral to his business. He discovered that many native Gloucestershire varieties were dying out so set about resurrecting them. His orchards now grow over 100 different apple varieties, and over 70 varieties of local perry pear, which obviously come in handy in the cheese production.

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As he researched more and more about them, he discovered that one of the historic outbuildings on his beautiful farm was originally a distillery dating back to the 1600’s. As you would expect, that is a discovery that has to be celebrated in Charles’ world. And so began a new arm of his business: the county’s oldest spirit-making site producing fermented perry pears, cider and perry in the most exquisite still I have seen. Always keen to follow history, Charles’ still house is apparently the oldest one still operating today and appealing to his sense of story, he employs the youngest distiller in the country to make his product. You can read more about the production of his newest venture into spirits here.

The beautiful historic building on the farm

The beautiful historic building on the farm taking in yesterdays glorious sunshine

Yesterday I felt very lucky to be sitting at Charles’ kitchen table having a try of the newly awarded Nuns of Caen as we supped coffee – not the best pairing one could ask for but wow! that cheese really is something. And so is the man himself. We just took in the beautiful setting, the flurry of nature that wandered in front of his window and the words of experience that came forth.

Today I leave my last words to the handsome, wise and inspirational Charles Martell:

“Do what you love doing and do it well – reward will follow”

 

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