10 Questions with Ben our Dairy Manager

  • 5 min read

We thought it was important as a business that we highlight the team and introduce our customers to some of the faces behind the brand. Meet Ben! He's our dairy manager and an essential part of life here at the dairy. Ben has been working with us for over 8 years and is in charge of our day to day cheesemaking. From making sure the Pitchfork curds are being 'pitched' to ensuring orders are being shipped out on time, he is involved in our cheese making at every stage. This week we've asked him a few questions to find out how he came to be a cheese-maker and how dairy life has been under lock down.

How long have you worked for Trethowan Brothers?
Just over 5 years this time round. I previously spent about 3 years running Trethowan’s Dairy shop, a small cheese shop owned by Todd and Maugan, in Bristol’s St Nicholas Markets.

What's your favourite part of the job?
Making amazing cheese - it’s rare these days to know that the quality of the finished product trumps efficiency and cost. Could we make more cheese more cheaply? Certainly, but it wouldn’t be of the same complexity of flavour or have the same texture. I know we’re making cheese in a way that hasn’t changed for generations.

How did you get into cheese-making?
I have always loved food and cooking and spent my summers working in restaurants, first as a waiter and then moving into the kitchen. After getting back from a year in Australia in 2003, I needed a job but I didn’t want to go back in the kitchen as the hours can be anti-social. There was a position on the speciality food counter in the then newly opened Fresh and Wild stores.  It was meant to be something temporary, but it was the true start of my cheese journey - the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. Skip forward several years and I’m now making cheese, having done everything else in between -  from selling cheese on a market stall, working as a wholesaler and even working for a cheese importer / exporter and judging at the British and World Cheese Awards. It seems I’m destined for a career in cheese!

What's your favourite, Gorwydd or Pitchfork?
Gorwydd. It has always been one of my favourite cheeses. It a true connoisseur’s cheese. It hasn’t a strong, in your face flavour, but it has hidden depths that delight the pallet - the texture has to be just right, not too dry and crumbly, but like a fluffy, smooth, melting crumble.
Pitchfork is delicious, but Gorwydd is my favourite!

What's been the biggest challenge for the dairy under lock down?
The unknown. Sales plunged at the start of lock down, we literally had no orders for the first week and not that many for the second week either. Sales have picked up thanks to people buying artisan products from small producers. Campaigns by Jamie Oliver and other high profile people have also really helped but the worry is that these new sales might not stay as lock down is eased and life returns to normal. Like every one else we just don’t know.

What do you love about cheese-making?
I love eating good cheese! So what’s not to love about a job where you make something you love?

Why is it better being a small, independent dairy?
From a financial point of view: not much! From a quality point of view: everything. We get our milk from one small, organically farmed herd of cattle; this means they produce milk of exceptional quality and without good milk it’s impossible to make good cheese. Big dairies may buy milk from several different farms spread across a large area, the milk is mixed and standardised so that each day it’s exactly the same, giving cheese that tastes exactly the same. It’s all a bit uniform and loses any link to the milk, the cattle and the land. Not so with us.

What would be your ideal holiday? Any tips or inspiration for us for when we're all allowed to travel again?
I would Sail with my family to Santander by ferry then take a leisurely drive through the Pyrenees Atlantic to Hossegor - a small town in South west France. Stopping along the way to sample the pintxos in Bilbao and San Sebastián and the village of Mundaka for the waves.
The Basque Country is a special part of the world, the basque people are extremely passionate about food and tradition. The countryside is a mix of mountains, forest and a wave pounded cost. I have been visiting this region for many years yet each time I go I discover something new. Two of my all time favourite cheeses, Idiazabal and Ossau Iraty both come from this region. They are both made from sheep’s milk but are very different in style and flavour.
Idiazabal is from the Spanish side of the border, Ossou Iraty from the French. This last trip I tasted a cheese from the French Pay-Basque, iRubela, that is much closer to a Spanish style cheese yet it some how seemed a little more gentle.
The grass on each mountain and each valley will have subtle differences that pass through to the cheese. This makes each of the cheeses subtly different with unique characteristics. 

Which five people would you invite to a dinner party and why?
David Attenborough - He has seen the world change in many ways over his years of travel.
Gordon Ramsey - he’s out-spoken and so there’s sure to be a good debate I also think he has a great palette so tasting the cheese course would be fun!
Ann-Marie Dyas (ex-boss and founder of The Fine Cheese Company) - put her at a table in a good restaurant and her love and knowledge of good food and especially cheese would be invaluable - we shared a favourite cheese in Idiazabal after all!
Kelly Slater (Professional Surfer) - he’s one of the greatest ever sportspeople, still competitive well into his late 40s! He has focused on following a natural diet for years and I’d love to hear him talk about diet and exercise. He’s also helped develop an artificial wave that’s actually really good!
Kim Collinson - she was a manager at Whole Foods and is a true food hero to me. She has lead the most amazing life and I’d love to hear more about it.

What's your signature dish?
Putting together the family Christmas cheese board is my speciality. All the family gather together at my parents house every year with the cheese coming out on Christmas Eve. With careful selection it is possible to have a different cheese board for several days in a row.
Although I love cheese and cooking I’m not a great one for cooking with cheese. That's not to say I don’t like it when someone else has made the effort, but I think I’m just too greedy and end up eating the cheese that's meant to go in the recipe when ever I try to cook with cheese myself! The one exception being my standard lunch at the dairy of beans on toast topped off with a slice of Pitchfork or Gorwydd!

​A massive thank you to Ben for answering our questions.  If you have any questions you would like to ask Ben or anyone in the Dairy Team, you can email us at info@trethowanbrothers.com.