Jul 26, 2008

Entertainment - Television's Big Cheese

Will Studd has run shops selling farmhouse cheese, fought lawsuits and written books on his favourite food. Radhieka Pandeya on his TV debut.

Even more exciting than the thought of butter melting in your mouth is the thought of cheese melting in it leaving behind a lingering taste of salt and juice... A different region, a different cheese and a different taste.
Now while the staple bread and butter may not enjoy the same status, cheese, for its exquisite methods of preparation, has found its way into the world of luxury foods. But what happens when luxury takes the form of passion, and passion of extreme loyalty?
Well, if you are “master of cheese” Will Studd, you simply fight in a court of law for your cheese, and upon losing, give it a teary-eyed, informal requiem. Then, you write a book on cheese and follow it up with a first-of-its-kind television series.
In 2003, having spent AUD 80,000, Studd lost the case he was fighting in Australia for the right to sell cheese — or at least the kind he liked. The case stemmed from different rules and restrictions surrounding the manufacture and import of cheese made from different forms of milk.
Australia, for instance, disallows the sale and consumption of uncooked cheese made from raw milk — a regulation that Studd decided to challenge. The result was a case slapped against him and an eventual ruling to destroy 80 kg of imported Roquefort cheese.
So Studd destroyed the cheese in an unprecedented burial that brought to life issues that had been shot down in court. Studd’s passion and dedication created a revolution of sorts.
Studd’s journey started in London, where he worked in fancy food shops and broadened his knowledge. It has now culminated in a television series — Cheese Slices — that kicked off on Discovery Travel & Living in India this week after having been successfully aired all over the world, including in Australia. It has been billed as a one-of-its-kind show.
For the filming, Studd travelled across continents to various cheese farms, looking at different cheese-making processes and, at the same time, collecting “folktales” that surround the discovery of cheese.
“In almost all these folktales there is a pattern. You fall in love, leave your cheese somewhere and forget about it. You come back later and it’s turned into some other form of cheese with fermentation,” he says with a mischievous glint.
More seriously, Cheese Slices is not so much about what to do with cheese as it is about how to enjoy your cheese.
“Milk tastes different in every region and so, cheese from every region has a distinct taste to it. And once you get the process right, handmade cheese can be the most delightful of foods.”
In his journey for Cheese Slices, Studd was pleasantly surprised by the strides the cheese industry has taken in the US. But even more revealing was his trip to Holland.
“When I decided to go to Holland to shoot, I kept questioning myself about the decision. On my list, this was the least favourite place for cheese since it’s the most advanced in processed manufacture.” But it was a lesson waiting to be learnt. Holland managed to stun Studd’s prejudice. Away from the mad cities he found a thriving community of artisan and farmhouse cheese manufacturers.
“The other surprise was Japan. The way they go about perfecting everything they touch, I should have known they would do the same with cheese,” he says.
On the list of exquisite cheeses being showcased in the 10-episode series in India is the blue Gorgonzola from northern Italy, goat’s cheese of Poitou from France, Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy again, Pecrino from Tuscany, Camembert, the original Cheddar from England, Comte Gruyere and Farmhouse Morbier from France, Quesos from Spain, and what Studd calls the grand-daddy of all cheeses — Roquefort —the most popular blue cheese in France.
“Not only does it taste lovely, but being one of the oldest manmade foods, each cheese has a fascinating story to tell,” he points out.
Studd’s own passion for cheese has been a lifelong affair: On completing his university, he opened cheese shops across the UK and aptly named them Relish even though he recalls that those days, cheese production in the UK was nothing to talk about. It was in 1981 that Studd moved to Australia, where he opened another chain of cheese stores, tried to develop a domestic farmhouse cheese industry and, in the process, imparted a lot of his knowledge of cheese to the locals.
He could have lost interest or simply developed a niche market for his imported cheese in Australia but Studd decided to tackle the manufacture of cheese and it were the battles and struggles to achieve success in Australia that took him to farther places in search of knowledge.
“If I hadn’t gone to Australia, I would never have come this far in my journey with cheese.” His first book Chalk and Cheese was published in 1999 and is out of print now, having become a collector’s album.
More recently, his second book Cheese Slices forms the basis of the present series by the same name. But from selling cheese to writing books and now to hosting a television show, the focus of Studd’s world has remained constant.
When the idea to create a television show from his book first occurred to Studd, he approached Discovery Travel & Living with it. Along with the team there, the show was conceptualised. But his biggest hurdle came in the form of a lack of sponsorship.
“Large, commercial cheesemakers were not willing to sponsor a show on domestic, farmhouse cheesemakers,” explains Studd and adds, with a laugh, that considering his show is against processed and packaged cheese, they were right in their stance.
But a lack of funds for a show that was unique by any standards did not dampen his enthusiasm. Studd decided to reach into his own pockets and ended up funding the show. You can watch the result every Tuesday, 8 pm on Discovery (T&L).

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