Alex James: The Great Escape

If it stinks, it's Old Bastard...
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The Independent Online

We're building a cheese factory, so that's next year's Christmas presents sorted. It's going in the long barn. Mr Crudge, the cheesemaker, used to live in Churchill, the village to the east of us. I don't go there that much, but it's one of those very pretty villages.

It has a cricket green, a reupholstery workshop, a good swing park, and a recently modernised pub. A lot of pubs around here are getting the Farrow and Ball treatment - they're slinging out the horse brasses and redecorating in chalky pastels. It's destroying the natural habitat of a once widespread, but rapidly disappearing species: the geezer. Geezers, particularly old ones, used to be common in our pubs, but they are being eradicated. They can be very timid by day, and are often frightened by the bright airy interiors. Numbers have seriously fallen since smoking was deintroduced.

The geezers are being wiped out by socio-economic factors. They don't drink wine, and they only eat Big D nuts and pork scratchings. They are simply not a viable proposition in the new family gastro-health pub schemes.

Mr Crudge, the cheese man, lives in Kingham, the village to the west. There is a local saying that to be born in Churchill and die in Kingham is a fate worse than a terrible death, but the balance of snobbery shifted when Kingham was judged "Britain's best village" by Country Life. It has a football pitch, a shop, a crime rate and there is a hotel that serves 12-course spectaculars in creaky old silence. There is the British Legion, too, for geezers.

Coincidentally, an eminent cheese-sniffer lives in the village, one of the judges of the Cheese of the Year awards. We're putting two types of cheese into production, one small, creamy and soft, one big, hard and smelly. We need to think of good names for them. Mr Crudge is suggesting Kingham and Churchill, but I think we need to shock with this cheese. I will be suggesting Little Slapper and Old Bastard at our next meeting, or maybe Kingham Geezer and Churchill Lady as a compromise. Wallace from Wallace and Gromit has become the Charles Saatchi of the cheese world, so you need to be able to imagine him saying it if you're aiming for a hit cheese.

In its heyday, this farm would have produced a little bit of everything - cereals, dairy, meat, poultry, fruit, nuts, wood, anything that grows. Modern farmers tend to do one thing at a time and stick to it. We have only sheep at the moment, for lambs. Sheep are low maintenance, but we're in the process of going organic and it's proving difficult to get Fred the sheep farmer to change his ways.

It's no more difficult to do things organically. In the organic system, a contractor will come in and plant cereal crops in rotation to improve the soil, but Fred's worried that he won't be able to produce so many lambs. The supermarkets want to buy cheap, and they'll only take a small percentage of organic meat. I'm convinced that organic farming is the way forward, though. So is the Government - the grants are substantial.

How difficult can it be to make cheese? The equipment looks simple. We'll give it a go.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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