Big Cheese Weekender puts Chiswick Cheese Market on the map

Image above: Chiswick Cheese Market; photograph Fran Warde

How a well-meaning wish to help food businesses during the pandemic became a flourishing and successful business it its own right

The Chiswick Cheese Market has been running for two and a half years, taking place on the third Sunday of the month in Old Market Place outside the rank of shops beside the George IV pub in Chiswick High Road.

It has raised more than £20,000 for good causes, which it did not set out to do, and playing host to the Big Cheese Weekender on Sunday 15 October is real recognition from the cheese industry that it is recognised and respected in the world of quality artisan cheese makers, says organiser Lucy Cufflin.

Launched in 2020 by founders Patrick McGuigan and Tracey Colley, the Big Cheese Weekender is three days of free cheese events aimed at celebrating and supporting cheese makers. This year they are live-streaming live from Borough Market on Saturday 14 and from Chiswick Cheese Market on Sunday 15.

They describe it as ‘an opportunity to EXPLORE different cheeses, EXPLODE your taste-buds and EXPAND your cheese knowledge’.

‘Queen of Cheddar’, Mary Quicke will be there on Sunday. Her family have farmed in Newton St Cyres, Devon, for almost 500 years and their Quicke’s Extra Mature, aged for a minimum of 18 months, is considered one of the best Cheddars in the world.

Images above: Chiswick Cheese Market; photographs by Fran Warde (L) and Abi Pitcher (R)

A potted history of English cheese and why it’s relevant

Twice awarded ‘Affineur of the year’ Perry Wakeman will be giving demonstrations and explaining how to mature and store cheese. An ‘affineur’ is someone who matures cheeses rather than makes them, Lucy explained to me. In France the two were always considered as separate jobs, as they used to be in the UK before the Second World War.

Wartime rationing put paid to that. The need to make cheeses which could be easily cut and shared and would go as far as possible meant that dairies were amalgamated and all but six big-name cheeses were banned. There was a certain amount of under the counter cheese making going on, but all the effort was meant to be pooled into these six big manufacturers.

Quantity not quality was the mantra and we lost virtually all our artisan cheeses in the process, until they started to be rediscovered in the 1970s and ’80s, which saw a great resurgence in artisan cheeses.

Unlike Italy and France, where the weight of regional traditions bore heavily on what cheeses could be produced, there was a freedom to experiment and make new and interesting cheeses, said  Lucy. Until Covid that is, when the market for artisan cheeses (restaurants) disappeared at a stroke.

I realise I appear to be digressing, as it is easy to do talking to Lucy about cheese, but the Cheese Market is run by a group of volunteers, passionate about cooking, whose previous project the Cookbook festival also disappeared in the pandemic.

Seeing what was happening to friends in the artisan cheese industry and the plight of local traders in Chiswick High Rd forced to close, they hit upon the idea of the outdoor Cheese Market to create a focus of activity to bring people back to the High Rd.

“The Flower Market had paved the way so we decided to give it a go” said Lucy.

Images above: Chiswick Cheese Market; photographs by Fran Warde (L) and Abi Pitcher (R)

Raising more than £20,000 for good causes

As they are all volunteers and the stall holders pay for their stalls, it soon became a profit-making business. Over the two and a half years they have been running they have been able to give more than £20,000 to charity and other good causes, principally The Upper Room in Hammersmith, which supports homeless people.

The Upper Room received £6,576.86 last year and is about to receive another cheque for £5,223.14. One way in which the Cheese Market links local food businesses into their charitable giving is a collaboration with Macken Brothers butchers on Turnham Green Terrace, whereby the market puts up some money and The Upper Room is able to draw down supplies of meat which owner Rodney Macken lets them have at cost price.

The market has given £2,500 to Ukraininan charities through DEC, the Disasters Emergency Committee, Red Cross and a Ukraine charity, and hosted a day at the market to raise money for Ukraine with dancers and stalls raising over £8,000 directly for Ukrainian charities.

Image above: Tracey Longhurst with her husband Graham with their goats at Wildcroft Dairy

Cheese Market sponsorships for aspiring cheese makers

The Cheese Market has also started sponsoring aspiring cheese makers, providing a £5,000 grant for sponsorships of four new cheese makers to assist their journeys from kitchen to becoming commercial enterprises.

Tracey Longhurst is one cheese maker they have supported. She farms goats in Surrey with her husband Graham and wanted to make cheese entirely with products from their own farm. The Chiswick Cheese Market is sponsoring her to make a hard blue cheese from her goats’ milk.

The Cookbook crew (now Cookbook Kitchen Community Interest Company) is a collection of women who, as the name suggests, are all very interested in cooking – some more professionally than others. Two in particular – Lucy Cufflin and Abi Pitcher – have become interested in the making of cheese to the extent that they have done cheese exams and are now qualified to judge international competitions.

Images above: Abigail Pitcher; Lucy Cufflin

The Cheese Market crew

Lucy, a chef and food writer, trained at the Cordon Bleu. She spent 15 years running her own ski chalet during the winters and a private catering operation ‘Lucy’s Food’ in the summers and autumn. She became executive chef to Skiworld (UK’s largest independent ski chalet operator) creating their menus and recipes for their ski chalets.

Abi is the director of her own design agency and is already a wine expert. She has a diploma in Viticulture from Plumpton College (the English wine hub) and passed all the Wine & Spirit Education Trust exams including the Diploma.

They have both taken to learning about cheese very seriously, passing their Academy of Cheese Level Two (out of four) qualification, which entails tasting over 100 different cheeses, understanding and knowing detailed information about the cheese making process and maturation.

They have started on their Level Three cheese qualification, which will see them move from Members of the academy to Fellows, and they have both moved beyond the confines of the Chiswick Cheese Market to judge cheese and dairy awards. Abi was on a panel of judges for the Great Cheddar Challenge, on a mission to find the best Cheddar.

Jules Kane, who runs Jules the Foodie catering company in Chiswick, is the hands-on market manager, sorting out the nitty gritty of dealing with stall holders and the public each month, while Fran Warde gathers cheese news, forges links with the cheese world and adds colourful content to the Cheese Market’s social media.

The team considers the Big Cheese Weekender coming to the Chiswick market as something of an honour. For more details of the masterclasses available and a special ‘Cheesewick’ walk, see Lucy’s guest blog:

READ ALSO: Big Cheese Weekender comes to ‘Cheesewick’

The Chiswick Calendar is able to offer holders of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card a £10 discount on the ‘Tastes of the Unexpected’ masterclass. (Just enter VIP as a promotional code when booking and show up with your Club Card).

The Chiswick Cheese Market is also pleased to introduce the Cheesewick Cow, a life-sized and very Instagrammable Friesian, and families can join in the ‘hunt the cow’ trail amongst the stalls.

Images above: The rest of the Cheese Market team, Yuka Caves, Fran Warde, Donna Freed, Jo Pratt, Lucy Lee-Tirrell, Jules Kane, Sarah Cruz, Susan Rjbhandary

These are the rest of the Chiswick Cheese Market team:

Yuka Caves is a teacher, whose speciality is Japanese cuisine; Fran Warde – chef, food writer, author, editor; Donna Freed – author, radio presenter, editor; Jo Pratt – award-winning cookbook author, food stylist and TV presenter; Lucy Lee-Tirrell – cook, author, recipe developer; Jules Kane – chef and businesswoman (Jules the Foodie catering is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme); Sarah Cruz – graphic designer; Susan Rajbhandary – Nepalese chef.

The Chiswick Cheese Market takes place on the third Sunday of every month from 9.30am – 3pm.