Community Spotlight: MilkJam
We are pleased to introduce you to a wonderful British project looking to “Foster understanding of English territorial cheese and milk.” To do so, we asked one of the founders to explain to us what is MilkJam is all about.
“MilkJam was started by two friends in London: a cheesemaker and a cheesemonger. Over many long chats and coffees we came to the conclusion that cheesemongers know a lot about selling cheese, but not much about what it’s like to be a cheesemaker. Even the best mongers are often blind to the emotional and intellectual investment a cheesemaker puts into their craft.
On a lark, we decided to bridge that knowledge gap with a mongers cheesemaking competition. Our aim was to teach mongers the specifics of cheesemaking and encourage empathy for cheesemakers along the way. In October of 2015, we held the first MilkJam Slam. We gathered 25 people from our local cheesemonger community, and put them into 5 teams. The teams were responsible for making and maturing their cheese, and then presenting them for adjudication to a collection of British cheesemakers. In return for their commitment we held a class on fundamental cheesemaking, gave them recipes, the milk, and provided the cheesemaking venue and kit. The teams’ engagement was more than we ever imagined and we knew we were on to a good idea.
With the success of that competition, we decided to hold another competition the following year and to clarify our aims. We enlisted the help of other cheese people to make sure our work had meaning. If MilkJam was going to have a significant impact, it would have to do more than just hold a yearly competition. It was decided that MilkJam should focus on deepening knowledge about two things: milk and British Territorial cheese.
Our projects focus on some aspect of milk or Territorial cheese. Through our workshops we investigate differences in milk: role of pastures, feed, and handling. We want people to understand that for cheesemakers, milk matters – that how it’s produced and handled affects how it turns out as cheese. We also want them to understand that true milk is not a commodity, but a distinctive agricultural product.
With the Slam we aim to deepen participant knowledge of both cheesemaking and Britain’s unique cheesemaking heritage. One Territorial cheese is selected for the Slam, allowing us to explore deeply the development of the make over time and also its place in Britain’s cheesemaking tradition. To be eligible to participate in the Slam, mongers must first take a cheesemaking fundamentals class. If chosen, they must commit to attending a day-long seminar on the subject cheese and the full make of that cheese (sometimes two days). Additionally they must commit to participating in maturing the cheese until judgement day. It’s not just a couple of days out of participants’ lives; like a real cheesemaker, it’s a long and drawn out commitment to a product.
Practically, we work with donations of milk from selected cheesemaking farms in the UK and the generous support of Neal’s Yard Dairy. Mongers pay a modest fee for classes, workshops, and Slams. Our aim is to deepen knowledge and build likeminded and empathetic cheese communities, rather than to make money. We try to keep things simple, flexible and fun, and hope we inspire a people along the way.” Jennifer Kast.
Are you intrigued? Follow MilkJamLondon on Instagram to learn more.
Carlos Yescas- Oldways Cheese Coalition Program Director