A cheese maker from Cornwall has been hitting the headlines for his award-winning hand made gouda. But behind this success lies a story of hard work, borne out of a desire to save the family farm.
Giel Spierings set up Cornish Gouda Co. when he was 19. He was finishing his A-levels and came home from college one day to see a for sale sign on the gate of his family’s dairy farm. He knew straight away he wanted to do something to help.
“I needed to do something that would use as much of the milk we produce here as possible. Yoghurt and butter use much less than cheese, so cheese was the best option. There are so many great cheddars available; I felt I couldn’t compete, so I wanted to do something different. My family’s Dutch heritage made gouda an obvious choice, “explains Giel.
Giel immersed himself in the project, reading lots and spending time with a cousin in Holland to learn the ropes. Although it is clear that from the start he had his own vision of what he wanted to do. “I use an open cheese vat and do everything by hand, which is quite different from many of the Dutch gouda makers. Each cheese maker’s style is different, and their cheese will taste different as a result.”
The investment Giel needed to start up was significant. As well as funds to buy equipment and convert a barn, he needed £25,000 cash flow because the cheese maturing process is so long. Within eight months he outgrew his original set up and so he took out a new mortgage and built a new shed to allow him to increase production. He is now using half of the milk produced on the family farm, allowing Joost and Annemarie to keep dairy farming.
Cornish Gouda Co attracted attention right from the start. Giel won Ignite, one of Europe’s biggest business start-up competitions in 2013, impressing the judges with his passion for the business.
Gavin Poole, a partner in Stephens Scown’s food and drink team was one of the judges: “I remember Giel’s entry video so clearly. There he was explaining all about his business and every few seconds he had to dash off to do something to the batch of cheese he was making! His energy and enthusiasm was infectious.”
And the prizes didn’t stop there. Most recently Cornish Gouda Co was named best hard cheese at the prestigious Great British Cheese Awards, beating some well-established cheddar brands. This win in particular has made the industry sit up and take note.
Taste and quality
Cornish Gouda Co produces a range of goudas from semi-matured, which is aged for 5-6 months to extra-mature, which is aged for 18 months or more. Flavoured gouda is also proving to be popular, with Giel planning to make more truffle flavoured gouda for the Christmas market this year.
What is the secret to Cornish Gouda’s success? “It is down to the flavour,” explains Giel. “The cheese we make is pure, with no additives. You really can tell the difference with a hand made artisan cheese like this over a factory produced product. This is becoming more important for our customers – they want to know how their food is produced and what goes into it.”
Giel sells mainly through wholesalers, although has recently been having a lot of success selling directly to the public at farmers markets in London. “We are building up a customer base in London of people who have tried our cheese at a farmers market. They are then going into delicatessens and specialist cheese shops to ask for Cornish Gouda. The knock on effect is that we have been able to get on the books of new wholesalers by creating this customer demand first.”
Giel’s business acumen has impressed Gavin Poole: “First and foremost, Giel has a great product. But he also has another magic ingredient – himself. His ideas and energy, have ensured that the business has got attention from the right people. He understands his best routes to market, and is very clever in the way he is growing his customer base. I’ve no doubt his success will continue.”
So what does the future hold for Giel and Cornish Gouda Co? “I want to increase production slowly, until I am using 100% of the milk our cows produce. I’ve commissioned a new cheese vat, which will be made to my own specifications in Holland and I will also be extending our current space and creating a new cheese makery to give us more room for storage.”