“So, we thought let’s make cheese”- Jonny Crickmore

With the run up to Christmas fast approaching we celebrate the wonderful people who create the ingredients that make the festive season sing! From the humble cheese and pineapple hedgehog of the 1970s party buffet to the revered cheese board, the one common denominator to any celebratory feast is cheese. So we were delighted when our friends, British cheese and dairy specialists Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore, invited us to their home - Fen Farm to talk about their journey into cheese making and how to perfect the British Brie.

Fen Farm Dairy is a small family run dairy farm in Suffolk. Now run by innovative 3rd generation farmers Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore, they have been making cheese using their own milk and aiming to set a new precedence for sustainable dairy farming. In the ten years since launching their own dairy brand, Fen Farm products have had an impact on the UK food scene. Their Baron Bigod cheese has made it on to many top British chef’s menus, as well as gracing the Royal families table nonetheless!

Jonny and Dulcie’s new direction for the family dairy business in 2013 came from the realisation that UK dairy farms milk was only ever marketed as a commodity product, the diary farmer wasn’t being paid a fair price for milk and had no control over this when working with the big supermarket chains.  With their passion for the milk they produced there was an obvious disconnect.  As a relatively small family-run farm they decided to start selling their delicious, raw milk direct from their farm. They painted their garden shed to look like a Friesian cow, eye-catching, and with a fridge installed they sold their re-branded milk in glass bottles with luggage tags attached. This was a big hit within the local community, so a vending machine was installed (the first of its kind) for people to fill their own re-usable bottles, and it’s from here at the heart of their local community that their diversification started. The vending machine caused a bit of a stir, writers such as AA Gil caught wind of it and wrote stories about the many benefits to buying fresh ‘unspoilt’ milk. But they were selling around 150 litres of milk a day at this point and producing around 6000 litres. Conversations started as to what else they could do with their milk…

There wasn’t anyone else making cheese locally to them in Suffolk at this point so they felt there might be a market for it. With help from good old Google they visited some of the UKs top cheese makers to see how they did it. Encouragingly they all had a very similar dairy business to them at the time, except that they had started to make cheese and Fen Farm hadn’t yet. Not a couple to follow the crowd, they contacted Neals Yard Dairy, the specialist cheese seller in London for advice. Neal Yards Diary celebrate local British cheese, yet there was a gaping hole in their best selling cheese counter for a British Brie, the French Brie de meaux stood there in pride of place and as the buyer at Neal Yards confessed that if there is one cheese we don’t do well in the UK it’s probably the most popular, the brie. Neals Yard would be delighted, they said, to sell a British brie, so that was where Jonny and Dulcie started, right there with that most delicious slice.  

“One of the best things we ever did was to ask “what cheese do you want us to make?’”

There was one problem however, they had no idea how to make French brie! So they went back to Neals Yard to ask for their advice. They were introduced to a French brie maker who explained that first off, they’d need to get “the right kind of cow”. English cows, apparently, don’t produce milk with the correct fat and protein ratio for a genuine French brie and he just wasn’t prepared to work with them until they had the correct cow and the right milk. Strangely the correct cow, according to Evan the French brie maker, was a choice of two breeds of French cow. A long story short, help from this knowledgeable, straight talking French cheese maker Evan Larcher, some excellent pigeon-English and a trip to France Jonny bought back their first herd of Montbeliarde cows. This herd graze their farms fertile marshland of the Waveney River Valley in Suffolk to make nourishing, flavoursome milk with the perfect content to make an authentic French brie.

The correct cows sealed the deal for Evan who then agreed to come over to the UK to help them establish their cheese making business. He helped them to design their cheese making building in line with a traditional French one, and start work on their recipe for Brie de Meaux and that’s how their celebrated cheese, Baron Bigod was born. The name for the cheese comes from their local Bungay Castle and named after the original owner, Baron Bigod. He moved to Suffolk from Normandy in 1066 during the Battle of Hastings when he was asked by William 1 to look after the South-East of England.  

“What we learnt later is it’s very difficult to make brie, which is why other British cheese makers hadn’t done it, you only have to move a little bit either side of the parameters to get it wrong”.

Brie is notoriously very difficult to make, something they learnt after choosing to make it. You have to make a thin cheese and then grow a rind whilst maintaining the gooey texture to it that we all know and love. Jonny tells us that there’s a fine balance between the PH’s and the temperatures, a balance they have most superbly perfected.  

Since making their first batch of Baron Bigod ten years ago they have gone on to breed their own herd of Montbeliarde cows. They continue to work with top quality cheese shops such as Neals Yard, but also outside of London, showcasing best of British. They continue to supply many top chefs in London and around the county, getting their amazing cheese out there and on to the plates of an appreciative audience. They’ve made a conscious decision not to supply big supermarkets, rather to make a sustainable business that stays true to their beliefs and their roots of the garden shed where it all began. They are conscious of their carbon footprint and have made steps to remove chemical fertilisers from their farming methods and are trying to build the right kind of habitats to grow a healthy range of plants to feed their herds and sustain healthy soil. They love the simplistic cycle of growing luscious, organic grass to feed their cows to enhance the quality and flavour of their dairy and meat products. They have installed solar panels to generate their own electricity, enough to power the farm, and invented their own “cow poo powered heat exchange” laying their water pipes underneath their cows winter yard- cow poo produces a LOT of heat as it breaks down! They also really limit the products they buy from across the globe, rather producing it for themselves wherever possible. 

Similar to Aubin’s ethos of Better is Greater Than More, Jonny and Dulcie have focused on doing a few things really well. Their now famous British brie, Baron Bigod comes in a few different sized wheels and wedges, they’ve also added a wonderful truffled version. After seeing a general lack of good British butter they’ve added their own top-end, Normandy style butter, cream and yoghurt to the range. They now supply some of London’s top restaurants with their butter, as well as their cheese, such as Claridges, The Goring and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir de Quatre Saison. They see themselves as stewards of the lands they farm and the delicate ecosystems they live in and seek to protect it for future generations. But most of all they believe in the importance of connecting people to the food they eat and the farm it comes from and that, they do excellently.

We believe that a good Christmas cheese board, like anything important, needs close consideration and early planning! So head to to feast your eyes on their delicious offerings and get your order in.