The path to becoming one of Britain’s most iconic cheesemakers began at London’s Borough Market for Cumbrian Martin Gott.
|Herd size||200||Small breed|
|Single herd||Farm made|
While helping on his family farm’s meat stall in his teens, he encountered the world’s cheese styles as well as some of their makers. A meeting with James Aldridge (a prominent figure in the 1980s movement towards reviving farmhouse cheeses) set Martin’s father upon cheesemaking trials at the farm and, though nothing came of the trials, getting his hands into curd as a willing helper lured Martin from beef to dairy. He took up an apprenticeship at Kirkham’s Lancashire and while there he met the late Mary Holbrook, a Somerset goat’s milk cheesemaker who informed him she wished to stop production. Sensing a chance to maintain a classic as well as get hands-on experience of animal husbandry, he and partner Nicola offered to help. It was there they began making St James (in homage to James Aldridge, who died in 2001) from a small flock of sheep he and Nicola reared. After a year with Mary, in 2006 they moved to their current site on the Holker Estate in Cumbria. (Mary Holbrook continued making cheese at Sleight Farm with assistance from others right up until her death in 2019.)
Now, from a herd of 200 Lacaune sheep (the breed responsible for Roquefort amongst others), Martin and Nicola still make St James, one of the country’s most exciting cheeses. They learned from their mentors that distinctive flavour comes from the environment in which the cheese is made. The soil, grass, breed and atmosphere give a unique combination incomparable when minimal intervention is practised. In their pursuit of a taste of place, for St James the marshy pastures of Cartmel, they make their cheese using the farm’s own starter cultures rather than buying them in, an elaborate and time-consuming process that enhances the cheese’s authenticity. After a quick-set and moulding like the Alpine cheese Reblochon, the curd then acidifies slowly before salting, encouraging the development of its soft core. The cheeses then undergo regular brine washing for the first fortnight to promote the bacteria that express themselves in the pinky orange colour and pungent flavour.
Martin’s pursuit of excellence leads him around the world seeking innovations to bring back not only to Holker Farm but, in keeping with those who inspired him, to the industry as a whole.