Alex James: The cheesemaker and musician talks superstar chefs, Blur and bad habits

 

Our food culture was a laughing stock until 20 years ago When rationing ended back in 1954, British food had a lot to catch up on. As a teenager I used to save up loads of money to go to France and spend it all on good food there. It may have been only 21 miles from England, but Calais tomatoes were a completely different proposition from Dover ones. On one exchange visit, instead of buying cigarettes and alcohol, I spent my money on juicy steaks from a butcher and delicious potatoes at a grocer, and had a feast.

Food has become the new rock'n'roll When Jamie Oliver was on stage at The Big Feastival [held at James' 200-acre farm] last year the crowd was as big as for Basement Jaxx. Chefs such as Gizzi Erskine and Valentine Warner are stars – food has become theatre.

Eating local produce was the great thing about touring I always had cheese on my rider and every country would leave me a different type. A promoter for a gig in Alsace, France, said, "I hear you like cheese," and he gave me a lot, and it was delicious. I don't want to go on about cheese too much, but I find it endlessly fascinating.

I needed something different after Blur I fell head over heels in love, got married and then me and my wife Claire wanted to run away together. So we bought a ruin of a farm in the Cotswolds and I've spent the past 10 years pouring my heart and soul into it, to become a biodynamic cheesemaker. At the time everyone from my mum to my accountant said "don't be an idiot".

Cheese is the ultimate mammalian-distilled elixir I was at a supermarket in Devon recently when a glum, bedraggled old man shuffled up to a cheeseboard, and put a small piece into his mouth. And as he began to savour the taste of it he began to straighten up, his whole face lit up and he looked at me wide-eyed, completely transformed by this cheese.

Food is the last great bastion of snobbery We can't all afford to eat artisan food every day and while my range of cheese flavours such as tikka masala [which James released two years ago, along with eight other flavours] was really nice, the range has been misunderstood by the critics [who claimed his products, such as tomato-ketchup cheese, were simply gimmicks]. I was just having a bit of fun really, and it's since been widely copied by big international brands.

Blur's songs bring back memories When I think of the single "Tender" [released in 1999], what it reminds me of now is playing Glastonbury in 2009. Something happened when we played there: it was a moment that made me realise Blur hadn't gone away, even after almost 10 years of not doing it. I remember thinking, this thing still lives and breathes. There were 150,000 people singing along and crying their eyes out – and I was one of them.

We're working on some new material We were in Hong Kong last month for a Blur gig and were due to head on to Taiwan and Tokyo afterwards, but the shows were cancelled. So we all ended up staying in Hong Kong and we went to the studio to record some new tracks, and it went incredibly well.

I've spent far too much time in hotels over the years And I've picked up some bad habits. Claire says the worst one is blowing my nose on towels. But I think there's something very resplendent about it.

Alex James, 44, is a musician and award-winning cheesemaker. Jamie Oliver and Alex James's food and music event, The Big Feastival, runs from 31 August to 1 September (thebigfeastival.com)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head