Say cheese! Meet the cream of producers at fair
Gary Jungheim loves cheese. Selling it, eating it, ageing it in his cheese cave, sharing his passion with others... and, for all I know, dreaming about it.
He's certainly excited about his latest acquisition – a giant cheese some 3½ft in diameter. This Camelot from Montgomerys in Somerset is like "the wheel of Fred Flintstone's car" and takes pride of place at this weekend's Tavistock Real Cheese Fair.
Gary and his equally cheese-loving wife started Country Cheeses in Tavistock 20 years ago, selling six different varieties from a table in the town's pannier market.
Now they have a proper shop in Tavistock and two more in Topsham and Totnes.
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Like their shops, the Real Cheese Fair has "grown and grown," says Gary.
"The interest in real food is so much greater now and cheese itself is a very emotive part of food.
"The more people start to learn about cheeses, the more they want to try different things. That's one of the most wonderful accolades we could ever have.
"There are trends in cheese. When we first started selling goats cheese it was a real no-no for people. The reason why people were frightened was because they'd had goats cheese in France which is really 'goaty'.
"When you get people to taste it, British goats cheese is very different. And now it's so popular.
"Some 15 to 20 years ago we started selling Vulscombe goats cheese – no-one knew where it was from. Now they say, 'that's the cheese from Tiverton'."
It's been the independent stores and the cheesemakers themselves who have promoted artisan cheeses, says Gary.
"The multiples have done a really good job of taking all the exploration and beauty out of food and out of cheeses.
"It's become about the universal Cheddar as they concentrate on cheeses that are quick to sell and easy to keep, rather than the harder to produce cheeses that are different.
"People are looking for character. When you've got less money to spend, they're looking for value for money. Rather than having a big block of something dreadful, they have something wonderful, but a little bit smaller."
It's fair to say that cheese is no longer just the preserve of "a piece of old mousetrap". Discerning palates are becoming more interested in the story of the cheese and the people who make it.
The Real Cheese Fair is all about those people. The fair introduces the consumer to the producer to learn about the varieties on offer and to sample them. Buying the cheeses actually takes place in Country Cheeses nearby.
There will be about 60 different cheeses being sampled – all part of Gary and Elise's evangelistic desire to educate people about cheese.
Gary thinks people enjoy learning about the process and the microbiology behind cheesemaking.
"The cheesemaker is a cross between a magician and a scientist," he says.
The magical scientists taking part in the Real Cheese Fair include the "amazing cheddar makers" from Newton St Cyres – Quicke's, who will be sampling a wonderful creamy, nutty, hand-made cheddar, and their new sheep cheese. Artisan producers Richard Calver of Westcombe Dairy and James Keen of Keens Cheddar are also taking part.
Sue Proudfoot of Whalesborough Cheese will demonstrate just why all six of their cheeses received one or two stars in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards 2013, announced this month. There were 9,738 entries and only 6% received two stars.
Her Miss Muffet cheese won Best Modern Cheese at The International Cheese Awards in Nantwich this month.
If you want to say "hi" to Gary at the fair this weekend, he's probably the one with the "cheesy" grin. And his favourite cheese of the moment?
"I'd have to say that my desert island cheeses would be a vintage Quicke's – I've got one in my cave, ageing."
The Tavistock Real Cheese Fair is today from 9am-5pm and tomorrow from 10am-4pm in Tavistock Town Hall. Entry is free.