Ten days in London

By Wilma Finlay

For David to have 10 days away from the farm is unheard of, but at the start of September there were two food festivals that we wanted to attend to showcase The Ethical Dairy’s cheese.  It was important that both David and I heard the feedback for ourselves. The reason is that it’s very easy to convince yourselves that your product has a market, that your brand suits that market and that people will care about your story. We needed to find out first hand what the public, and the trade, thought of our products. 

Speciality & Fine Food Fair

What better place to find out what the industry think of us than to launch the cheese to trade buyers at what is arguably the most influential speciality trade show in the UK! Speciality & Fine Food Fair at Olympia is without a doubt where the fine food, speciality and independent retail industry descend to discover new products and explore emerging trends. It is filled with hundreds of exhibitors, all hoping to stand out from the crowd and catch the eye of an influential buyer.

Now anyone who has ever had a stall at a show at a major event, you’ll know the routine. You can be sure that there will be major roadworks even though it is a Saturday, then of course the van will overheat. You’ll arrive an hour after your allotted time for unloading and have to find an understanding security guard… I could go on for a long time about the inevitable mishaps and disasters that threatened to trip us up before we had even arrived but eventually, arrive we did, and boy was it worth it!

We brought along a new experimental blue cheese, now christened Bluebell. It was our first ever batch, and it was the star of the show for us. 

We got a fantastic reception from The Vegetarian Society “Please, please do this. Even if you don’t become members of the Vegetarian Society, please make this happen”. After hearing about the work of the Society we applied to become a member almost as soon as we got home. Another theme was shop owners who are ‘almost vegan’ and some who were starting to wonder whether they were in the right career of selling cheese. Many were worried about the industrialisation of dairy farming and they saw it first hand when they visited suppliers. 

There were many people at the show who sought us out. We didn’t have to ‘sell’ anything. We had eight different distributors tell us that they want to stock our cheese. Now bear in mind that in our 20+ years of making ice cream, we have always had to chase distributors.  Being sought out, being asked for exclusivity, being invited to other events to launch a new cheese - this was a new experience for us.

Talking of ice cream, we are also launching a range of ice creams under The Ethical Dairy brand.  We are currently at product testing stage, so the ice creams came to London too.  Thanks to all the chefs who tried them and gave us their detailed feedback.   We were particularly pleased with the reception to our new ‘Pure and Simple’ flavour. Do you need vanilla imported from the other side of the world to make a beautifully refreshing neutral ice cream?  We don’t think so, and neither did those who tried it!

Overall Speciality & Fine Food was an eye opener for us.  We are reassured that there is a market for our products, so as soon as we can get the new cheese dairy up and running so that we can make more cheese, the sooner our products should be appearing in a retailer near you (Meanwhile you can still buy them direct from us).

Our stand at Speciality
Our first four cheeses
Coming soon... organic ice cream!

Go Organic Festival

Our second show was Go Organic in Battersea Park. It was part of Organic September celebrations and was open to all. It was a beautiful weekend, with great music and loads of organic and lifestyle products. 

Unlike the trade show, no-one had heard of us, so the vocal chords were in overdrive explaining what we do.  I thought David was going to go hoarse half way through the first day. Again the feedback was terrific.  What little Bluebell cheese we had left was sold in the first 3 hours. This cheese, a pasteurised semi-soft blue, has proven so popular that we asked our expert cheesemaker Stephen to prioritise making more batches of this, we should have some ready in around 6 weeks time.

We met quite a few vegans and ‘almost vegans’ at this show too. It has to be said that a face to face discussion is much more civilised and productive than some of the exchanges that have appeared on our Facebook page over the last couple of weeks.

If there is one thing we learned at this festival is that unlike us rural dwellers, the majority of people in London don’t have much storage space in their kitchen. Our minimum on-line order is 500g – most people simply wouldn’t have the space for that. I could almost see a bubble coming out of David’s head saying ‘but you’d eat that in a couple of days!’.

We also launched our Crowdfunder campaign that weekend. This was all set up to go live before we ever left for London (well about 5 minutes before we left for London). We had no idea what would happen. We later found out that we should have had friends and family lined up to donate when it went live to get it off to a flying start, but we simply weren’t that organised. When we retired to the pub after the end of the festival and caught up with what was happening in the outside world, we were astounded to discover that our campaign had been the top trending project that day!!! Thank you Facebook and Twitter friends xxx

Sustainable Food Pop-up Meal

The following evening was our final event.  A pop-up in Shoreditch – how trendy is that?  It was a joint event with our friends Chris & Denise of Peelham Farm who specialise in charcuterie. 

The purpose of the meal was to raise awareness of sustainable food production systems with chefs, retail buyers, members of the media and elected politicians.  We wanted to start a conversation about the challenges of food production and what we think some of the opportunities are to do things better.  Our reason for doing this when we did was to coincide with the Soil Association’s Organic September campaign.  Both ourselves and Peelham Farm are organic farmers and Pasture for Life Association members, and we used the event to explain why.   

Chris & Denise did most of the organising and so much of any event like this is done through friends of friends.  In all honesty I don’t think we could have done better. Leila’s Shop and café in Shoreditch was perfect and her passion for sustainable food is unquestionable. She also introduced us to a fantastic chef, James Ferguson, who was just outstanding. 

The theme was ‘Can Dairy Be Ethical’? We may have caught the public’s imagination by keeping the cows and calves together, but at the end of the day both become meat. Dairy beef is seen as an inferior product to beef reared from traditional beef breeds e.g. Aberdeen Angus. This is a point of view we would like to see change. Our challenge to James was to design a menu using ruby veal (a 10 month old suckled calf) and ‘Auld Prime’ (beef from a 12 year old cow). We will all remember his Roast Auld Prime rump with horseradish for a long time. Not to mention the cheesecake with poached mirabelles using our Crowdie cheese (not in the shop - yet!). At the end of the night James explained how he developed the menu and how he cooked each dish. Everyone in room knew they were listening to a master. 

The timing of the pop-up coincided with the airing of BBC Scotland’s documentary ‘The Dark Side of Dairy’.  We watched it on iplayer when we returned to our lodgings at 1am. Being so far away from the farm while this aired on BBC Scotland was surreal, and we could see from what was being said on social media that our return home the next day was going to be interesting. Things haven’t stopped since, and we will give you an update on that very soon!

Leila's Shop in Shoreditch
Denise from Peelham Farm
Chris from Peelham Farm
Chef James Ferguson
The cheeseboards
The four of us at the end of the evening

A big thank you!

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported our crowdfunder so far.  We are pleased and relieved that people share our vision for a kinder, more ethical, more sustainable approach to dairy farming.  If you like what we’re doing please share our story with your friends and family to help raise awareness of our dairy revolution!  Thank you.