26th May 2023
In this series about the region’s food producers and farmers, artisan cheesemaker Stacey Hedges talks to Emily Gulliver from the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings.
As a teenager, Stacey Hedges worked in a shop in her native Sydney – and so began a life-long passion for the science of cheesemaking.
‘I used to look at the cheese on the shelves and think about how amazing it is that there are so many varieties, yet they all just start with milk’,” she remembers. “I found it fascinating.”
That interest stayed with her as she began to work in the food industry, first as a chef and later as a private caterer.
In the late 1980s, she travelled to London, initially planning to stay for two years, before meeting and marrying her English husband. Experiments with cheesemaking in the family kitchen fed her fascination before Stacey met Charlotte Spruce at the school gate, where the friendship and business was born.
In the early days it was a case of the pair learning as they went, starting in a tiny creamery with a thirst for knowledge.
“I went round different artisan cheesemakers and cheese shops in London – the cheesemaking community is really close and very helpful,” says Stacey at Hampshire Cheese Company’s base in Herriard, near Basingstoke. “There was lots of trial and error – definitely a lot of error!”
The hard work paid off and in 2006, within a year of launch, Tunworth Cheese – a soft, Camembert style cheese with a distinctive creamy texture – was crowned Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards.
Interest from retailers including Waitrose and wholesalers supplying names such as Fortnum & Mason, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Harrods followed – and so did support from big name chefs including Raymond Blanc, Simon Rogan and Nigel Slater. In 2018 a second cheese – soft, spoonable Winslade – was introduced after five years of development.
Every Monday to Thursday morning, the team collects 3,000 litres of milk from nearby Rotherfield Park Farm. Yeasts and cultures are added, curds are separated from whey, and the cheese progresses through a series of rooms for drying and maturing before it is ready for sale.
Around 6,000 cheeses – and up to 12,000 in the run-up to Christmas -– leave the premises each week, with Fridays dedicated to a meticulous clean down, and weekends a well-earned rest before the process begins again.
Everything is done by hand, including flipping thousands of cheeses a day to ensure an even distribution of moisture.
It’s all a long way from that cheese shop in Sydney, and Stacey admits there have been ‘scary’ moments along the way, “There were definitely times when we wondered if we were doing the right thing,” she says, “But I guess it’s worked out OK!”
Emily Gulliver is a family law specialist at the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings. For more information get in contact.