The Food Artisan: The Cornish Cheese Company's Philip Stansfield

· A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. 
· As modifier of food or drink made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.
Once a fortnight CellarVie Wines, and our roving ambassador Nigel Barden, endeavours to unearth some of our shores’ finest and most quintessentially artisan food producers - the culinary purists who consistently champion local produce in an innovative yet deliciously tasty fashion - in order to bring you an interview that gives you an insight into their ethos. In this instalment we are delighted to welcome Philip Stansfield from the highly acclaimed Cornish Cheese Company.
Nigel Barden writes: "Philip Stansfield is from a Cheshire farming family and he was also a Premiership rugby player with Sale RFC, donning the blue and white shirt nearly 600 times. However his family lost some of their farm in a new town expansion scheme so he ended up milking Friesian-Holstein cattle on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall where land prices were much lower. With milk quotas falling through the financial floor, there wasn't much cash in traditional milking, so Phil started making cheese to stay in business. He felt there was room in the market for a creamy blue cheese, which would appeal to women rather more than Stilton.

A decade late and Cornish Blue Cheese was voted No 1 at the World Cheese Awards ahead of entries from all over the world, some of which had been made for centuries. Despite playing rugby in South Africa and New Zealand, this 'victory' ranked as Phil's highest accolade and that night at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, Mr S's knees were seen to buckle a touch and the hard man must have had something in his eye, as a tear (or two) rolled down his cheek! It's some journey Phil has been on and I think it has some way to run yet. It's been a privilege to know this talented and driven man since his Sale rugby days."
How did Cornish Blue come about?
Cornish Blue Cheese was born after we bought a farm in Cornwall. Four years later the price of milk collapsed and due to high financial borrowings we had to create more income and profit, so we decided to try and add value to our own cow’s milk.
Apart from Cornish Blue, what would your desert island cheese be?

I really do like the crumbly acidic cheeses, Cheshire and Wensleydale are my favourites.

What are some of your favourite wine tipples and which ingredients/dishes do you like pairing them with, cheese or otherwise?

I love full bodied reds and the French chateau Bordeaux reds are my favourites. Every other year, after the Bra Cheese Festival in Italy, we drive back through the Bordeaux region and stay with friends and we buy as any of the beautiful strong reds as we can! They are fantastic with beef and Devon Red Ruby aged steak is the perfect match for me.

For whites, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are a favourite especially Cloudy Bay or a good French Sancerre. I have very traditional tastes and I love seafood; either a good meaty fish or any of the crustaceans.

In regards to cheese, I always put the cheeseboard on the table about an hour before the meal, to allow those wonderful flavours to get excited. I would have five or six small pieces of cheese on it and three would always be Cornish Blue, a ripe Brie and a Cheshire or Wensleydale. For me cheese should be nibbled at and those fantastic flavours and textures should be talked about throughout the whole meal.

What other food styles/countries excite you?

I am very traditional and British in my tastes and I think we have the best beef in the world if reared, prepared and cooked properly. When I do travel abroad I do try and eat the local dishes but my favourites are British beef and local seafood.
Your last meal (many centuries away); what would it be, who would cook it and what would you quaff with it?

To start with food is a social experience as well as a sensory one. We would start with a dozen rugby mates and their partners.

First we would have a few bottles of Camel Valley white and rose sparkling wine along with some seafood canapés and a warm cheese board of about eight different cheeses to pick at throughout.

Then we'd have a scallop course. Plus a few bottles of Cloudy Bay.

The main would be a full rib of Dexter beef aged and cooked on the bone, with fresh veg, new potatoes and cauliflower with a Cornish Blue cream sauce. Plus a few bottles of full bodied Bordeaux reds.

We’d finish with apple crumble smothered in Cornish Clotted cream.

Finally a nice bottle of homemade sloe gin to help us put the cheese board to bed. All worth dying for!!

When and where are you happiest?

I am happiest when out sailing on our boat. We have a full on hectic lifestyle and just sailing along the coast with friends and family is the way I can switch off and relax. We are very much social sailors going from one good restaurant or pub to another. Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, the Channel Isles and the north coast of France offer some great sailing and eating destinations.

If you hadn't gone down the farming route, what would you have liked to have done?

I think you know the answer to this one! I was never going to be an office bound person as I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I played over 500 games for Sale and retired just before the game turned professional, so it was a big disappointment to miss out on not being paid for doing your favourite pastime! So I obviously would have loved to have been a professional rugby player.

Where and what was your best meal ever?

I have just had one of my best meals ever whilst on holiday in Barbados. The seafood there is fantastic, and we were in a beach-side restaurant where they walk up the beach from the small fishing boats with the catch of the day. We had scallops to start with, then I had one of those amazing dishes, it was a whole fresh fillet of Red Snapper on a bed of sweet potato mash with pesto and some slightly grilled slices of fresh mango. Washed down with a nice cool bottle of Sancerre…it was unbelievable!
How do we get hold of Cornish Blue and how do we keep it at its best?
Cornish Blue is distributed throughout the country through a network of wholesalers; they supply farm shops, delis, food halls, hotels, restaurants, pubs and most supermarkets on the deli counter.

The best way to keep it, is buy it little and often as it's always at its best freshly cut. If you do keep it in the fridge keep it at the top, where it's not quite as cold. Also every time you cut a piece, give the cheese a fresh wrap, using either foil or waxed paper and keep it in an air tight box, as refrigerated air dries out the cheese.

What did it feel like to have your cheese voted the Best in the World at The Great Taste Awards?

Having our Cornish Blue cheese voted Best in the World was probably the most rewarding and amazing moment of my life. We have only being making cheese 12 years; we are dairy farmers that left a family run farm in Cheshire to buy our own in Cornwall. Through hard times and low milk prices we decided to diversify into cheese making in order to try and increase profits and also reduce the 16 hour days I was working trying to stay afloat. The moment Bob Farrand (the director of the Guild of Fine Food) announced it I just couldn't believe it; my whole body turned to jelly and I just couldn't move. Myself and Phil Jones only went along out of curiosity in order to see the last few cheeses being judged and it was literally a totally life changing experience in terms of the effect it had on our business and our respective family life.
What are the big differences between first-class rugby today & when you played?

The main differences between rugby today and rugby in the 80s and 90s when I played, is the fitness levels both in terms of strength, power and speed and especially the forwards. Individual skills have also improved dramatically. Defence has become a much bigger part of the game, to the extent it has stifled individual flair; you have back row forwards now as fast as the backs. Professional rugby has enabled players to train to their absolute maximum and every player now has their own diet and physical training programs. In our day it was train hard two or three nights a week, play on a Saturday and rehydration was 10 pints of Boddingtons!!!

How good are England and how do you think they'll get on in the next World Cup?

England can compete with any team in the world. On their day they are able to dominate possession, stop other sides playing by denying them the ball and have a resolute defence. For me they don't use space enough and they don't run at space like the Aussies do. They don't create space and they don't look comfortable in space so therefore they lack individual flair and rely too much on pressure and penalties to win games rather than scoring tries. They need players with flair who are a danger to the opposition and who are game winners. I think with this extra aspect to their game we can win the next World Cup. Without it we are competitors rather than one of the favourites.

Where did you watch the British & Irish Lions 3rd test against Australia, and did you have a small beverage to celebrate?

I watched the Test at home with a group of rugby friends and thought it was a fantastic win especially as Australia seemed to be getting better and stronger. What a very brave selection call by Warren Gatland too! We had a barbecue and a lot of beverage to celebrate well into the day!!

What was your finest rugby playing memory?

My finest rugby memory? There have been a few, at Sale we beat Pontypool, who had a full British lions pack, at home on an Easter Monday in front of a full house. They were even filling the trees! Running out at Twickenham for Lancashire against Cornwall in front of 80,000 people was very memorable; I think Cornwall was empty that day. We lost to the great Bath team of the 1980s in the semi-final of the JP Cup and it was a full house. We lost to a David Trick penalty in the last minute which was heart breaking and it was seriously physical. I couldn't move for a week after. I also played two seasons in Natal, South Africa; running out at Kings Parks in front of 45,000 rugby mad fans was an incredible experience. Natal is known as the last British outpost and it certainly felt like it.

Would you advise your children to become farmers?

Firstly I think children should be children so many farm kids get pushed into farming at an early age and see nothing else of life. I wouldn't push them, they need to get away from Cornwall and see what's on offer in the rest of the country, as Cornwall is a very poor small place. It would be very satisfying to pass on the family farm and Cheese business to any of them if they want it of course.Children nowadays live in a computerised push button society and I'm not sure the long hours and physical work is going to suit them but then everybody still has to eat!!!

The Perfect Wine Match for Phil Stansfield

Nigel Barden writes: “Phil talks of his love of Claret and he certainly would enjoy our Château Lamothe-Cissac 2006, Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc which retails at £14.99. This château, owned by the Fabre family, lies between Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. The blend is typical of the region, with the Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) producing a rich cherry backbone, softened by the Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (5%). The time spent ageing in the bottle has really allowed this fine Claret to develop superbly and this wine would be a hearty match for Phil’s sturdy palate!
Here's Phil's white: Phil likes a classic Sauvignon Blanc and the much garlanded Joseph Mellot consistently knows how to get the best from this grape variety. His 2011 Les Collinettes Sancerre (£15.49) is one of the best in the Loire Valley, cleverly combining the flavours of grapefruit & caramel. 

Looking for a way to diversify their farm business and add value to their own milk, Philip and Carol Stansfield spotted the gap in the market for a young, blue cheese that could compete with imported blue cheeses. Designed to be eaten as a young cheese, Cornish Blue is a very different product from traditional English blue cheeses such as Stilton or Dorset Blue.
Recognising that the climate and location of their farm were ideal for artisan cheesemaking and would give Cornish Blue its unique taste and character, the Stansfields started production on a small scale in 2001...the rest is history! 
For further details please contact Philip Stansfield at:
Tel: 01579 363660 


Written by: Nigel Barden

Nigel Barden 


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