Who is Charlie Turnbull

“I grew up on a small farm growing lamb & beef where my mum was doing box schemes in the early 80s.

Most of what we were eating we had known lamb and bullock, zero food miles, but back then we had no idea to appreciate it. And being one of 5 kids, we weren’t exactly culinary, more gluttonry. We ate a lot.

 

I learnt two things around that kitchen table – use good ingredients and keep it simple. Actually truer now than then. And make that three things – the more people at your table the merrier.

 

I tried to be an engineer (turned out my early aptitude for spanners didnt carry over to thermo-dynamic equations) then an accountant (succeeded but auditing Tottenham loo rolls wasn't my thing). I came to cheese after visiting Francis Wood who farms buffalo up near Shepton Mallet – very very cool animals. She sells her cheese into the London Farmers’ Markets. I was considering getting into farming, so worked a few days over a few months with her, and saw it was hard work for not much money. At least she had some fields, I didn’t even have that.
 
But the cheese, now there was something.  I went to see Chris Ashby to learn about cheesemaking, and Bob Farrand, Guild of Fine Food, to learn about cheese varieties and selling it.  It is the most wonderful subject - from sunlight to grass to cow to milk to junket to curd to cheese.  Press it scald it mill it salt it, put it in a mould it, inject it with mould, wrap it in cheese cloth, in tin foil, in waxed paper, in wax, but it in a box, sell it at the counter in a restaurant, at a farm stall, give it for Christmas, eat it with a pork pie, wash it down with a pint of beer, maybe even cook with it.  Sneak a bit in before supper while the chef isn't looking.
 
Cheese is made by that wonderful half breed of artist and engineer, the artisan.  I have got to know many of these people in the last decade, and they are some of the best.  I've worked with them, learnt from them, eaten with most, drunk with many and danced with a few. Even now I work with Bob very closely, and was judging with Chris at Nanthich International Cheese Show this year.

 

So I opened the deli to sell cheese in 2003. Shaftesbury was not the choice, the shop was simply the best premises someone would let me have. Landlord’s aren’t that keen on wannabe shopkeepers with no trading history. And at the time the rest of the shop – the café, the catering, the jars of gherkins - was simply necessary to keep the cheese boat afloat. There is a lot happy accident in my history.

 

Since then cheese has outlasted everything but the dog (she's well, very old and likes cheeses alot). I judge cheese for Nantwich, Taste of the West, The Great Taste Awards, Bath & West and the World Cheese Awards, even occasionally for the French at the Concours Generale Agricole. I give talks an cheese and beer matching at food festivals and lecture local social groups like the WI on the pleasure of cheese. With my landorver, tent strapped to the roof, I visit Frenchmen in one horse towns to check out their cheesemaking skills. Its fun. The people are welcoming, full of passion and history. I’ve never met someone whose love of farmhouse food did not extent to a love of friends, family and hospitality in general.

 

In the UK I sit on the board of the Guild of Fine Food, and more locally organise our town’s food festival, the Shaftesbury Feastival. This year we had over 6,000 visitors to Shaftesbury for this free one day event. We do it with a lot of volunteers and on a micro budget of £4,000 from local sponsors. As I say, it’s fun. Better than auditing loo rolls in Tottenham. Pay is worse, though.

 

I’ve not left the accounting entirely - I have a side line in giving courses on the financial side of running a small food business. In having your own food business, passion is not enough. You need to be tightly in control – retail is detail. Passion doesn’t pay the bills when the money runs out. I impress people in the importance of margins, staffing costs and supporting higher margins with higher quality. If it keeps one more person in business that’s a good thing.

 

My next step is to put together a cheese site capturing our little cheese world’s idiosyncrasies, our anecdotes, our great cheeses and our passing fancies. Why? For the Love of Cheese, I reckon.

 

Favourite recipe: Family, friends, food, put in a mixing bowl and stir.  Add cheeseboard.”