Ribblesdale chat with: Peter Morgan, The Book and Bucket Cheese Company, Cranborne, Dorset

Tell us a bit about you

Peter, right, his wife centre and Steve left

My name is Peter and I own and run The Book and Bucket in Cranborne, Dorset.  We have been up and running for just over a year and we make cheese exclusively from Dorset sourced ewe’s milk.

For the last 9 years, I was managing Woodlands dairy where we were making yoghurt from sheep’s milk for a London based family. We were making about 10,000 litres of yoghurt a week and supplying Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s, and the independents.  After 9 years I decided to do something different.

About 6 years ago, when we had excess ewe’s milk, and as we had our own farm, (Woodlands owned about 3,000 sheep, mainly Frieslands, all organic) I spoke to the owner about possibly making cheese and he said “Yes, go ahead. Do what you want!”  So we set up a small cheese room, about 5 square metres, bought a 500 litre vat and started developing cheese.  The cheese was called Melbury, a hard cheese, similar to Ossau-Iraty.

That went on to win a Silver at the British Cheese Awards, so this is where it all started.  At the back end of 2018, it was time to leave and set up on my own.  I had a conversation with my brother in law and his business partner Andrew Dawson, former MD of Bournemouth Football Club and they said they would back me if I wanted to go ahead and do it, so I did.

Prior to Woodlands, for about 15 years I was working in butchery, so dairy was a bit of a change.  I was a company trainer for Morrison’s at the time.  I had butchered previously and went to Morrison’s when they took over Safeway’s.  I met a chap called Richard Jones who was part of Yeo Valley, working as a consultant for Woodlands Dairy. He was looking for an operations manager for Woodlands and offered me the job to manage the dairy.  All my experience in cheese making has been self-taught!

When I first started, I spoke to Ken at JKM Foods and Charlie Turnbull who

Book and Bucket unit

has a Deli nearby, to ask how you start out making cheese.  They pretty much both advised me to read plenty of books and the rest is bucket science!  Just start experimenting.  This is how I came up the name Book and Bucket, the bucket is literally because was I was making cheese in a bucket and the bucket just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

If I were not making cheese, I would be working in something food related.  I don’t think I would ever work as a chef, I enjoy cooking but not for other people.  A dinner party is fine but I could not put up with the stress chefs put up with, however, I do love experimenting, which I get to do with the cheese.

What do I like to do in my spare time?  I don’t really get a great deal of spare time.   It was just over a year ago that I got the keys to our new place, so I don’t think I have ever had a day off.  I am very lucky in that I am passionate about that I do. My wife works with me and one other guy; we all feel the same and we love to talk to people about what we are doing. This helped us have a good first year, having staff who feel the same the way you do, is so important.

What do you make and why?

A selection of Book and Bucket cheeses

All of the cheese we make are from sheep’s milk.  I wanted our cheeses to be different and having worked with sheep milk for 9 years and working very closely with the supplier, having built this up, I was keen to push on and develop something from ewe’s milk, using my experience.

I wanted to make sure that we had cheeses that were ready quite soon, for cash flow purposes, so we started off with 2 styles of feta, a traditional feta and one that we mature in Kalamata olive brine that we get from a local olive company.  This imparts a really rich, deep red colour to the feta and you get the flavour of the olives which is such a talking point with customers as they get to see a deep red cheese.

We make two types of halloumi, a traditional and a smoked version which is smoked by Dorset Smokery for 15 hours over oak chips that they dampen down with scrumpy cider.

The support we have had has been incredible.  I went to speak to the man at the smoke house who said “Let me do something different for you!”  The smell is just to die for – it is really different.

We also do a sheep’s milk brie and we do a hard cheese which is like Manchego.  We use a local rape seed oil from about 2 miles away from us that we use to wipe the rind of the Manchego.

We make some seasonal specials, too.  For example, we have a lot of wild

Book and Bucket ewe’s milk brie

garlic growing on the Cranborne Estate, so we do some cheeses with wild garlic running through it.  We also attend a chilli festival a couple of miles from us and make Dorset Naga with chilli running through the halloumi.  This is about getting the balance right.  We want to get the wonderful, salty richness of the halloumi and the smoky favours of the chilli to work together.  I try to use as many local products as I can as we are always looking to support each other.  Further down the line I am looking at doing some rind washed cheeses as we have a local beer and cider producer close to us.

Tell us about your dairy: where is it, what do you have in it, favourite bits of kit, things you would like to change (if anything) or something that would make your life better/easier

We are based in an old cheese dairy which was converted to a butchery and about 6-7 years ago it then went back to making cheese.  When I moved in, the building had been empty for about 7-8 months so it needed a bit of tlc.  We have about 2,000 sq. feet.

In the production room, I have two 400 litre vats, we have a pasteuriser and we have two draining tables.  I sourced all of the equipment second hand!  The vat came from Northern Ireland and a lot came from a dairy closing down in Gloucester.  We had to do it on a fairly tight budget and it is always nice to give a new lease of life to old equipment.

If you imagine a big rectangle, at the top is production room, in the middle

Peter making cheese

is the main cheese cellar which is where the hard cheese is stored and has a nice new shiny evaporator in it.  It was the only original item here and it has died now – but it lasted me 8 months.  We have had some fantastic individual support, too.  For example, our stainless steel guy made some tables for someone else and turned up with a spare couple under his arm for us.

At the bottom of the rectangle, we have a split room: half is another cheese cellar for the brie and the other side is my walk-in fridge.

It gets very hot when we are making halloumi as we are cooking the cheese.  I would love air conditioning – something I am hoping we can get to before next summer.

Equipment wise, I would love a peg mill as I am doing it by hand at the moment, it is such hard work. It is just one of those things, as it is still early days for us, we have to prioritise what comes first.

How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheesemaker

We are very lucky where we are in that all the floors drain to the floor drain.  It is just these little details that make a difference.  My advice is to work through your day so that the room flows with your production.  That makes such a difference.

The Book and Bucket dairy

For me, it was all about enjoying it, making sure that the production rooms have windows in it that open onto open fields.  Make your working environment enjoyable because you are going to spend a lot of time there. That is the key thing.  You can have all of this wonderful equipment but it is all about setting something up that is pleasant to work at and enjoy walking through the door every morning.

Be brave!   Don’t feel that you have to do things the same way as everyone else.  Use your imagination, challenge yourself, keep tweaking what you are doing.  Never accept that what you are doing is the best you can be. For me, once you are happy with your cheese it can always be better.  You never stop learning and accept that things are going to go wrong sometimes.  Milk changes, conditions change, keep enjoying it and keep a smile on your face.

Has the dairy industry changed? I think it has and that people are lot more aware about their food and want there to be a story behind it. There has been quite a growth of artisan food producers, people are educating themselves more about food.

I think as well with food intolerances, making the majority of our products from sheep milk, we are getting a lot of people who are dairy intolerant, so for them to get a sheep milk product in Dorset where they could only previously get cow or goat was something new.  When we first started at Woodlands, people gave us strange looks when we said that the products were made from sheep’s milk but people have started to change, a lot of that was about educating them. We can explain the benefits of not just sheep milk but proper cheese without additives. Back then, often yoghurt had stabilisers in it but now we don’t need to be mass producing or doing lots of things to it the raw ingredients speak for themselves.

We have found that restaurants and hotels are very interested in having locally sourced produce.  There is one very up marketplace near us and they try to have a menu of food sourced within 25 miles. They have been amazingly supportive and there are more chefs wanting to source locally, and they like to be involved, come along, have a chat and look around.  So I have seen a move away from picking an item off an order sheet or a booklet, people are becoming more involved in what they are buying.

Where can we find your cheese?

The key thing for us is that we want to try and cover all our bases, so we try restaurants directs, local delis and farm shops.  We also do quite a lot of food festivals, especially as this is our first year, getting our name out there.  It is not just about what we are selling but also promoting the outlets we are selling through, so telling people where they can continue to buy our cheese.

We have some distributors, some that specialise with restaurants, some that specialise with farm shops and they don’t overlap and who have been really supportive.

Favourite cheese making music?

We have quite a different selection. I like big music, so we have something like the Kaiser Chiefs, but my wife is happier to listen to the radio.   She likes local radio stations and then we have Steve who is my delivery and sales guy who would rather have the cricket on Talk Sport.  Steve is also into country music and I have never heard of half of the people he likes to play!   Some of it is bizarre.  I did walk in one day and I asked Steve, what is this on the radio, it is awful.  It wasn’t until later that that he told he me he had requested it.  It was one of those moments when I thought I will just go back out and come in again.

Name: Peter Morgan

Company: The Book and Bucket Cheese Company, Cranborne, Dorset

Twitter: @Thebook_bucket

Website www.thebookandbucketcheesecompany.co.uk

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