I was thrilled to have really had such an entertaining and fascinating chat with philosopher, jazz musician and renowned cheese historian, Ned Palmer.
Author of the Sunday Times Book of the Year ‘’A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles’’ Ned makes it clear that every cheese tells a story. In his recent book Ned takes us on a mouth-watering journey across Britain and Ireland to uncover the histories of beloved old favourites like Cheddar and Wensleydale to exciting new innovations like the Irish Cashel Blue or the splendid Renegade Monk.
Ned works with Laithwates, the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, the British Epicurean Society and various London craft brewers to bring audiences delicious surprises and pairings, alongside eccentric, eclectic, and esoteric stories of the makers of great British cheeses, both ancient and modern.
On the back of our chat, I placed a rush order for a hunk of fabulous Gorwydd Caerphilly and Colston Bassett Stilton. Delicious. Well, why let the grass grow under my feet.
If you love cheese, and the history of the British Isles then this episode is quite delightful. This is Your London Legacy
“You don’t every really stop being a jazz musician though, do you?”
At six years old Ned was already falling in love with jazz at a time when he could listen to records and see the whole development of the genre. He played for years, but like many musicians, had to pick up other work—and some of that work was as an affineur—someone who watches cheese and takes care of it. This most certainly kicked off Ned’s deep love of fine cheese, and in fact, he finds many similarities between jazz and cheese, and has even entertained doing a tasting that pairs cheese with different kinds of jazz chords and music.
“I want to say as a sort of public service announcement—be careful. You eat a really nice piece of cheese, you don’t know what’ll happen.”
In Ned’s book “A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles” a whole history of cheese making plays out, from Neolithic pots being scraped and analyzed to determine if cheese was made as early as thousands of years ago, to Roman times, monks churning cheese, medieval times, and pre- and post-war times, all the way to the 70’s cheese renaissance and post-modern cheese. And let me tell you, the tales are just downright fascinating.
Take the Great Cheese War of 1776, a little skirmish Ned uncovered while doing research that involved armored convoys, raids, and besieged warehouses held captive by the end of gun barrels. There are tales from the WWII involving cheese being used as a weapon when rations ran thin and cheese makers going out of business, losing artisanal varieties, and the townsfolk who worked to gather money to keep others in business.
“If you don’t play with your cheese—it will play with you.”
On this episode I’ve done something I’ve never done before on the podcast—I let Ned take a look at the cheese I had in my fridge and rate my taste in cheese, and let me just say, I’m not sure I passed all the tests here. However, it was beyond lovely to chat with Ned and enjoy some of the cheese he recommended—he is beginning to delve into working on his next book which will have him touring cheese makers in France. I highly recommend his current book which can be picked up right here: A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles