4×4 Interview: Cave-Aged Blue Gum-Tingler

Sheep (James Bowe) 674 x280

Olly Bruggles has just swept the board at this year’s Grande British Cheese Championships (est. 1871) – Britain’s oldest cheese award. His Cave-Aged Blue Gum-Tingler took centre stage at the Leicester-based event  as he romped away with Gold trophies across five categories:  Best Welsh, Best Blue, Best Sheep’s Milk Cheese and Cheese of the Year. With all other competitors reeling in his wake, Kathryn & Nick talk to the decidedly happy artisan and try to tease out his secrets.

Nick: How do you feel about winning these awards?

Olly: This is what I imagine winning an Oscar must feel like. I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet, bubbling with bonhomie and bursting with excitement. It has taken me 40 years of experimentation to perfect this cheese, and now I’ve done it! I’ve moved heaven and earth and travelled 2000 miles hunting for the perfect conditions to create the finest cheese in the world. First, I set up in Cornwall, all over Cornwall in fact, then Devon… but everywhere I went the grass was wrong for my sheep. Then I tried Yorkshire – ideal you’d think, except hard-water grass simply doesn’t work. Five years ago, I moved to west Wales and things finally starting coming together. After a few weeks in Wales, the delicate depth of tang I was looking for in my sheep’s milk reared its head. At that moment, I knew I was in for something special. The ten months it took to age the first batch of Blue Gum-Tingler was the longest of my life; when I collected it from the Ceridigion mountain I was shaking with anticipation… after a lifetime of trial and error, it was now or never. I raised a slice to my lips and as my gums started to prickle, it was like an electric current through my veins. Our cheese has now got a highly dedicated following, the supermarkets have come calling and I’ve got more orders than I know what to do with. My wife decided to enter me into this award on the sly… I didn’t know winning would mean this much to me.

Kathryn: What makes the Cave-Aged Blue Gum-Tingler special?

Olly: It all starts with my sheep. I have thirty: Dido is my oldest, Beatrice, my youngest.  Grass is the most important thing of course, getting the grass right is what enables you to produce the much-needed tingly-tang in their milk. It continuously rains the best type of water in west Wales, which makes the grass very lush sweet and tender. I watched their little faces as they tucked in for the first time on their new hillside and I saw contentment… maybe that’s what makes their milk so good? The water supply is crucial and I am lucky to have an old fashioned watermill to farm the succulent Welsh rain. But the other thing that makes a real difference is the caves. The Ceridigion coastline is craggy, buffeted by winds and fronted by the swirling Irish seas. My cave is the optimum hidey-hole against the elements.  I hand-wrap my cheeses in cloth, then settle them down for a nice long sleep…. they go in as a caterpillar and return a butterfly.

Kathryn: How did you come up with the idea for the  Cave-Aged Blue Gum-Tingler?

Olly:  I grew up in a village outside Manchester; I was raised on Cheddar, Cheshire, Double Gloucester, Red Leicester and Stilton. As a boy I experimented with simple cheese production in my parents’ kitchen. Then, when I was 18, I went to France and my taste buds exploded. Roquefort: mild, creamy, delicious; made from sheep’s milk and aged in caves – caused me to question my previous cheese beliefs.  But I was bowled over by St Maure de Torraine. This little-known goats cheese that comes on a wooden stick, and when sufficiently aged, fizzes gently against your gums. I travelled to the farms that made the best of these cheeses in the hope of studying their secrets. All the best producers had the same thing in common, the raw milk had a delicate tang like nothing I’d ever tasted before. I have spent the last 40 years trying to recreate that tang and come up with the ultimate blend of these two fine French cheeses.

Nick: Now you’ve achieved your ambition, what next?

Olly: There are so many things to do and not enough time to do them! Cheese is not the only thing I produce. I also have been working on breads, pickles, fruit wines, but I don’t want to give too much away before it is complete. The only thing that concerns me is how long it takes to get these things right…

Olly Bruggles’ Cave-Aged Blue Gum-Tingler is available in selected Waitrose stores from July 14th

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