Martin Fullard meets Francis Gimblet, who is campaigning for British cheese and wants to see the events industry take it up
I first met Francis Gimblet at one of his wine tasting events at Vintner’s Hall in 2017. His events company, Taste of the Vine, offers corporates a blend of fine wines, gin, and whiskey mixed in with some light stand-up comedy and, if you’re not careful, a hangover too. However, he is now adding another element, and it comes from his own Gimblet Cheese Company… cheese. Specifically, British Cheese.
Gimblet has just completed a tour of the UK, visiting 100 cheesemakers in 100 days, sleeping on the roof of his Land Rover Defender between dairies.
Why is this important? Well, before the war, the UK had around 2,000 artisan cheesemakers. Rationing and post-war austerity, obviously, saw this number decline to about 200, and a strict classification saw just five cheeses available. This was for reasons of transportation and longer life, so soft cheeses like Brie were off the menu.
Gimblet would like the events industry to take British cheese more seriously, as it could soon be lost. “We have five to eight years left to save British artisan cheesemakers because the number of small dairies is in decline,” he says. “To save it would improve animal welfare and diversity of artisan cheeses in this country. We make a tenth of the amount of artisan cheese that France does, and I feel we can do a lot more.”
Despite the rise in veganism, animal welfare is not something a lot of us consider when we’re planning our menus. And while vegans steer clear of cheese, the rest of us, surely, are concerned with animal welfare. Gimblet explains: “I think the milk industry as a whole is being pushed by global milk prices, by America and China in particular. Economies of scale have produced some very large mega-dairies where the average life expectancy of a cow is just six years, despite a cow being able to live way into its 20s. Smaller, ethical dairies take much better care of their cows and will keep them for 15 years or longer. They’ll be kept outside rather than inside in a cage and fed chemical feed. It’s the environmental impact and animal welfare that forms a large part of our campaign.”
At its core, the events industry is often about ‘wowing’ delegates, so should we be paying more attention to the quality of the cheese being served up?
“With events, ultimately, what most of us are trying to do is impress somebody else with what we’re doing as a company,” says Gimblet. “The last thing you want to do is give your guests average cheese if you’re providing expensive food. I’ve seen lots of these equivalences from top caterers, where cheese is the last consideration from chefs.
There’s this view that if it looks like cheese then that’s fine, but if you’re really aware of cheese then you’re willingly creating a poorer impression in front of your guests.”
When you consider that France has 4,500 artisan cheesemakers, it’s a crying shame that the UK has such a small amount. While it’s not the events industry’s job to save another industry, it does have a responsibility to source ethical, and ideally local, produce. And if you can find a British cheese that tastes as good as the servings Gimblet offers up, you’ll never go back.