The Cornish Cheese Company: one dairy farmer’s journey to becoming an award-winning cheesemaker

The Cornish Cheese Company: one dairy farmer’s journey to becoming an award-winning cheesemaker

by Great British Chefs 11 June 2021

As the cheesemakers behind the award-winning Cornish Blue celebrate their twentieth birthday, we look at The Cornish Cheese Company’s rise to success and chat to founder Philip Stansfield.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

It’s hard enough to start a food brand from scratch – it’s even harder to make a success out of a company which was only initially created as a solution to a problem. The Cornish Cheese Company was first set up by dairy farmer Philip Stansfield and his wife Carol in answer to the collapse of milk prices in the 1990s, but now it’s an award-winning brand celebrating its twenty-year anniversary. This success is largely down to one cheese in particular: Cornish Blue, which made The Cornish Cheese Company a nationally recognised name. We spoke to the founder of the company, Philip Stansfield to find out more about this cheesemaker’s rise to the top and what he’s got up his sleeve for the next two decades.

The story begins in the mid-nineties, when Philip and Carol moved their herd of dairy cows down from Cheshire to a farm on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall to continue life as dairy farmers. When the price of milk suddenly dropped dramatically, they were forced to rethink they way they worked to keep their heads above water. ‘The farm we bought had an old bottling plant,’ explains Philip. ‘It was a building just not being used. So, we looked at how we could add value to the milk. We considered everything from bottled milk and flavoured milks to yoghurt and ice cream, but in the end, we decided to go with cheese. We knew nothing about cheesemaking but it used the most milk — it takes around 9 to 10 litres of milk to make one kilo of cheese — so you’re adding a lot of value in a smaller volume.’

Philip then returned to his old agricultural college in Cheshire to learn the art of cheesemaking. There, he met Chris Ashby, who led the course and offered to come down to Cornwall and help get things started. But before they could get started, Philip and Carol had a big decision on their hands — what type of cheese were they going to make? ‘We noticed there was no blue cheese being made in Cornwall, but at the same time we didn’t want to be competing with Stilton. A lot of the imported cheeses were softer, milder and creamier cheeses but there were very few English blue cheeses like that on the market, so that’s what we tried to develop.’

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After twelve months of tinkering around with a recipe for the new blue cheese, Philip started making his Cornish Blue in 2001. Initially making one 200 litre vat a week, the production process was quickly scaled up to the point where they were producing 25,000 litres a week. Within five years, The Cornish Cheese Company was starting to win prizes for its Cornish Blue, which was also proving very popular with the public. After being runners up at the British Cheese Awards three years running, it was declared Supreme Champion at the Bath and West Show in 2010 — something made even more impressive by the fact that the competition was traditionally dominated by cheddars.

It was Cornish Blue being declared the World Champion Cheese in 2010 that really changed things for the Cornish Cheese Company, however. ‘That was my proudest moment – winning out of 3,000 cheeses. It was a night I’ll never forget,’ says Philip. ‘It was such a turning point for the business too. We had to do a big expansion straight away to cope with the increased demand and from then on we’ve just continued to win awards and the business has grown off the back of that.’

There are a number of different factors that go into making a cheese as highly recognised as Cornish Blue, from the raw products to way the cheese is actually made, but Philip puts it down to a few things in particular: ‘The location of the farm is really important, in the same way it is when making wine. The soil type here is great and Cornwall also has a very good climate for making cheese because there’s plenty of moisture around. Also, the milk we use is all from one specific herd, so we have full control of what we feed the cows. We therefore make sure we feed them for good quality milk rather than high volumes.’

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This same level of care and attention was put into the production of The Cornish Cheese Company’s first goat’s cheese, Cornish Nanny. First launched in 2017, it’s made using the same recipe as the Cornish Blue but with local goat’s milk. It’s already started winning awards of its own including being crowned the UK’s best blue goat’s cheese. However, unlike the company’s other cheese, Cornish Nanny continues to be made in small batches, predominantly supplied to high-end restaurants and hotels.

2021 sees The Cornish Cheese Company celebrate twenty years in the business and along with a rebrand, there are plenty of other plans afoot to mark this milestone. ‘We’ve built another dairy, which is set to open any day,’ Phil tells us. ‘We’re going to make some soft cheeses there, like brie and camembert, as well as white versions of our blue cheese and goat’s cheese, using the same recipe but without the blue mould. Once the new dairy’s open we’re going to have a day, which will hopefully coincide with the week we started twenty years ago, where we invite all our wholesalers around and everyone who’s helped us along the way, as a bit of a thank you. At the same time, we can also introduce them to the new soft cheeses and show them where it’s made.’

The Cornish Cheese Company is a wonderful example of how a brand can be grown around a single high-quality product. The past twenty years have seen Philip and his team go from being small-scale dairy farmers trying their hand at cheesemaking to an award-winning, nationally recognised brand, and that’s largely down to their Cornish Blue. With its new range of soft cheeses set to launch later this year, who knows where The Cornish Cheese Company will be in another twenty years?