A new artisan cheese created by Caius alumna Penny Nagle has been crowned Best British Cheese at the inaugural Virtual Cheese Awards 2020.
Penny studied History at Caius, before embarking on a legal career, eventually co-founding leading cinema distributor, More2Screen. After a self-confessed midlife crisis, she and husband Marcus upped sticks, left the city behind and decided to set up their own cheese business, despite no experience or training - just a simple love of cheese.
Three years ago, after a short River Cottage course, they started making cheese in their kitchen at Feltham’s Farm, an organic small-holding in Somerset. Everything they do is organic and as sustainable as possible. The entire process is now powered by 40KW of solar panels, and ground source heat pumps, with delicious whey fed to their pigs. Marcus is the ‘cheese brains’ with the fine attention to detail needed to be a truly great cheesemaker, as Penny explains, “He is fastidious about every aspect of the cheese make and development. Cheese making is alchemy - a fascinating blend of rigorous scientific observation and artistic flair. With artisan cheese making, every batch is subtly different: the milk changes with the seasons; humidity and temperature vary; and, because every cheese is moulded, pierced and washed by hand, you are never going to get exactly the same final product. The job of the cheesemaker is to respond to these variables when making and maturing the cheeses to make the product as consistent as possible.” Penny, on the other hand, is the broad brush of the partnership, with experience of pulling together a small outfit on a shoestring budget.
Supreme Champion in the UK - Renegade Monk (a “lovely oozy, soft, sweet cheese adventure for your taste buds”) is the result, and thankfully the midlife crisis is working out quite well so far. Penny explains the historic origins behind the cheese’s interesting name “The name Renegade Monk came about because washing cheeses in alcohol was a medieval monastic technique and because it is a hybrid cheese (both blue and washed-rind) hence Renegade. However, our next door village is Templecombe, once an important centre for the Knights Templar - the original renegade monks.”
They both agree they’ve never worked harder in their lives, and they love it: “It is terrific to go to bed exhausted at night and say to each other ‘We’re the Best British Cheese!’ It’s not often you can say that, and even more so if you are a tiny, organic artisan cheese producer from rural Somerset.”