Gorse Hill Abbey Farm
‘No Gorse, no Abbey’ was the first answer to a question about the heritage of the name of the farm when visiting Michael and Diane Stacey.
I had a fascinating visit here. Michael predominantly produces St Eadburgha cheese. It’s akin to a brie or camembert but, in my opinion, it’s a notch above these rinded cheeses.
So some questions for Michael:
How did you start producing cheese?
It was a bit of a hobby to start with. We moved here some 40 years ago and started off with a dairy farm. My childhood was spent in Switzerland surrounded by cheese making and so I was quite familiar with it.
How have the varieties developed?
St Eadburgha was the first cheese we produced. I was often told that white rinded, mould ripened cheese was the most difficult to produce but I ploughed on with it regardless. The other cheeses, St. Egwin and St Oswald, two hard cheeses, were developed later. As was St Wulfstan, a firm white cheese. Over the years we have produced a number of other cheeses including some soft creamy cheeses with peppercorns and herbs. Personally, St Oswald is my favourite cheese
Which is your best seller?
Undoubtedly 90% of the cheese we produce is St Eadburgha. We produce the other cheeses seasonally and intermittently.
How do you market your cheese?
We don’t do any marketing. When we first started producing cheese, we visited many farmers markets to launch the products. Now they are well enough known to sell themselves to outlets like The Broadway Deli and The Cotswold Cheese Company in Moreton-in-Marsh. We do still visit farmers markets in the surrounding area such as Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Stratford upon Avon.
How did you develop your knowledge of cheese production?
I am mostly self taught, although I have attended a few cheese making courses in my time. Like all things you never stop learning new things in order to enhance quality.
Do you see yourself developing other cheeses?
Diane quickly steps in to say no, he’s already got enough to do. Michael remarked, with a twinkle in his eye, that he would tell me when Diane left! He did make it clear that he would really like to produce a blue cheese. The problem being that it would produce its own complications and would have to be prepared in a separate cheese room because of the different culture involved.
Tell me about Organic production
We were semi organic for many years but we became recognised officially as an organic farm in 1990. This was quite innovative as organic farming was only just taking off. I became part of the Organic Milk Co-operative based near Bristol. Its not a huge challenge, being organic. There are added costs involved to replace such things as fertiliser and additional manpower but we have absolutely no regrets.
We have a few Friesians but most of the herd is Montbeliarde. This is a breed of cattle which originated in France and is still the most popular breed for cheese over there. The breed is hardy and has a high milk yield and is the best milk producing breed for cheese production.
I read somewhere recently that the UK has a higher rate of production of cheese than France nowadays.
This is a bit of a myth. Production is greater in France. It’s down to the fact that probably 30 cheese makers produce one cheese variety like camembert. We have a greater variety in this country produced mainly by small makers.
What’s the secret of your success?
Hard work and a passion for what we do! It’s a 24/7, 365 operation. (Diane tells me that holidays are simply out of the question, well, for the time being.) Cows are robotically milked which requires constant monitoring. In addition, our passion dictates that no cheese leaves the farm unless it is perfect.
Where would you choose to go on holiday Diane, given the opportunity?
A food and wine tour of Italy would be my perfect holiday. At the moment though I spend most of my time cooking and gardening. We produce all our own vegetables organically, and occasionally some meat. I have to ensure Michael has his dinner on the table at the right moment!
This was a fascinating insight into the production of a great product and I so enjoyed meeting up with Michael and Diane.
I then went on to meet Rebecca who works on cheese production. I met up with the cows and was then taken to see the robot.
This was completely new and interesting territory for me. Cows queue (in a very orderly fashion) to be fed and milked. Each cow is recognised by a tag as it feeds and so prevents the cow getting a crafty second round. The milking is done robotically and, as mentioned earlier, has to be constantly monitored.
My best wish to Michael and Diane was to produce St Eadburgha for ever and ever. It is, without doubt, my favourite cheese, and of course, is produced in Broadway.