Monday, 27 August 2018

Sicilian wines en primeur

mount Etna wines, Nicosia winery, Sicily,

mount Etna wines, Benante winery, Sicily,
 Etna wines, Benante winery, Sicily,
 Etna wines, Benante winery, Sicily,
wild flowers in a vineyard, mount Etna wines, Nicosia winery, Sicily,

"Sicily isn't just an island, it's a continent."

Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo

Despite the fact that fact grapevines thrive best in poor soil, vineyards are situated in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. In Sicily, I saw fields where windswept vines are shaped like bushes, (often held down by stones); I saw vines that resembled the elegant branches of a harp; others that threaded along a wire in orderly rows like soldiers.  I could also see the influence of the natural wine revolution on traditional winemakers: whereas vineyards used to be tidy and regimented lines without weeds, now wild flowers grow abundantly between the tiers of vines. 


The island boasts 76 cultivars of grapes; some, like Grillo, Nero D'Avola, Zibbibo, Catarratto, Carricante and Perricone (the antecedent of Marsala wine) only grow here.

The soil too, is varied: 12 kinds, from jet volcanic pumice to red clay schist, chalky limestone cliffs or ochre sand. Around Mount Etna is probably the most visually arresting; even olive green foliage pops when the background is black.

Harvesting in Sicily, due to these diverse geographical conditions, is a long season, stretching from August to November. Picking starts early in the desert heat of the interior, mid-season where there are saline breezes near the coast, and late at snowy altitudes around Etna. 


Sicily produces more wine than New Zealand, and almost as much as Australia. Two hundred wineries produce almost 60 million bottles. For a place with little industry, and high unemployment, almost double the mainland rate, the wine business provides employment for 7000 people. Not bad for an island off the coast of Italy. It is however the largest island in the Mediterranean and bigger than Wales.



History



Sicily, after Georgia, has the second oldest wine culture in the world; recent research shows they've been growing wine since 4000 BC. Scientists discovered this by scraping sediment from shards of pottery found in a hidden cave. 

The history of Sicily, due to its location at a naval crossroads in the Mediterranean, encompasses every empire and colonising urge, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans,  Vandals, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, British and now the Italians.


Time functions differently on this island: ancient and new linger cheek by jowl. The way Sicilians, especially the Planeta wine family, talk about the Roman Empire, it could have been yesterday. This impression was repeated when Valentina Bruschi, an art history guide who gave us a speed-walking tour of Palermo, airily declared that 18th century baroque is considered modern art in Sicily. 


There is still some resentment against the Romans for ripping out all the vineyards (2000 years ago!) and replacing them with wheat fields.

 'We were the bread basket of the empire' bitterly lamented one wine family scion, Vito Planeta
Memories are long. Likewise, the removal of anything pertaining to Greek culture. As always, the new empire had to wipe out the traces of the previous one.*


Experts

Benante winery, Sicily

A wine trip, while a great pleasure, can also be an intimidating experience. While not an expert, I want to learn. I know how to taste. I sniff deeply, plunging my nose deep into the glass, sometimes leaving a mark on the bridge of my nose. I've learnt to swirl my glass without slopping the wine over the edge. 
When surrounded by experts, I sometimes wonder if I have the right to speak or ask questions  but then I think what the hell and ask away. There is no such thing as a stupid question right? I've learnt to trust my instincts. There are no 'right' opinions. 

On this trip, I was with 85 journalists from all over the world; the majority were wine experts. Some had very specific interests: one international journalist only covered Italian wine, no other region. Very few came from the UK:

 'They are all at the Decanter World Wine Awards' I was told. 'We keep changing the date not to have a clash, but they keep changing their date too.' one winemaker complained.
The winemakers were all delightful: warm, friendly, generous, happy to share their knowledge. As were the sommeliers from the Associazione Italiana Somelier, impressively dressed in black frock coats, white shirt and black bow tie, with silver 'tastevin' or tasting cup hanging down on a heavy metal rather 'mayoral' chain. They guided my tasting choices and I got to taste some truly incredible wines.
sommeliers from the Associazione Italiana Somelier, Sicily


What is 'en primeur'?


En primeur means 'at the beginning'.  You taste very good but very young wines and the idea is to predict how good they will be in a few years time. It's the wine version of a 'futures' market.

I'd heard of Bordeaux 'en primeur' but now almost every region has an en primeur event. Bordeaux remains the most important of these markets.


En primeur is an opportunity to buy wine before it is bottled, in order to get it at a reasonable price. This is very necessary in the case of Bordeaux, but, I've heard complaints that even the en primeur prices are beyond anybody but bankers and Chinese investors.



Wineries

Colosi vineyard, Salina, Sicily

At the start of the trip, our group visited wineries around Etna then moved onto the Aeolian islands. 

Refined wine is fairly recent to Sicily: it was only around 35 years ago that a new wave of winemakers and cantines started to improve and produce fine wines. The wine industry, as in much of Europe, was devastated by the phylloxera wipe-out in the mid 19th century. From that era until the 1980s/90s, the regional wines were either ordinary table wines or had been used to bulk out mainland Italian wines. 


Sicily used to be known for red wines, drunk young. Now white wines, particularly in the west of Sicily are gaining renown. This is my tour of the land of the Cyclops around Etna.


Etna wines:


Sibiliana



Sibiliana winery, Sicily

This was the first winery we visited, part of a large group- Cantine Europa. I started to hear, for the first time, the names of Sicilian grapes that, to be honest I'd never heard of: Cattarratto, Zibbibo. 

In the old days Grillo wine used to be be yellow, oxidised and full-bodied: winemakers struggled to control the fermentation. But now Grillo is growing in popularity as a dry white wine.


I tried the Spumante Due Sorbi, which was citrussy, acidic, mineral, as you'd expect from volcanic soil, salty and fresh, with small bubbles. Grapes are picked early, in August. Perfect with seafood. 

I also tried their Eughenès range: Catarratto Lucido, Grillo, Syrah-Nero D'Avola '15 and '16, and Perricone. 


Nicosia



Monte Gorna, Etna, Nicosia, sicily
Nicosia winery, sparkling white, sicilyMaria Carella, one of the few female winemakers in Sicily, Nicosia winery.

Visiting the Nicosia vineyards at 750 metres of altitude, where it sometimes snows, at the foot of an extinguished crater around Mount Etna, I was almost blown to the ground by the wind. I eyed 60 year old espalier vines, stunning against the pitch black charcoal undersoil. This is the rainiest area in Sicily.



This winery also benefits from a beautiful shop, restaurant (incredible olive oil) and cellar while boasting one of the few female winemakers in Sicily, Maria Carella. 
I tried Fondo Filara Bianco '16 (beer notes, sharp, mineral), Etna Bianco '13 and Fondo Filara Etna Rosso '14( liquorice, cocoa, ruby colour), Etna Rosso '12 (lavender, black cherries, a little smoke, lovely). 

When you get to taste vertically (that is, the same wine but preceding years) it gives you the chance to see how the young wines en primeur might develop. 


Benante: 



Benante brothers, Sicily

Founded in 1988, Benante is one of the first wineries in Sicily to make fine wine. The father of these boys was a banker who risked everything to become a wine maker. His sons, brothers Antonio and Salvino Benante, are continuing his tradition.


Salvino Benante, Benante winery, sicily

I tried Etna Rosato '17, Etna Bianco '16 (sour apple, crisp, stainless steel tank), Rovitello Etna Rosso '16 (raspberries and vanilla yoghurt), Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso '12 (gravelly, tannins), Rivottello Etna Rosso '14 (cherry, field blend, grown at 500m).

Le Casamatte



Gianfranco Sabbatini, owner of Le casematte winery, sicily
Le casematte winery, sicily

On a balcony overlooking vineyards, I tried the wines of a former accountant Gianfranco Sabbatini, who 20 years ago decided to pursue his dream of owning a winery. Le casematte winery served us Rosematte '14, a sparkling rosé and Peloro Bianco '17, named after the tip of Sicily from were you can see Calabria on the Italian mainland.

Our group then took a hovercraft boat to the islands, stopping off at Stromboli and the marvellously named Vulcano, which, even at the docks, smelled strongly of the sulphuric fumes from the volcano and onto the dreamy and fragrant island of Salina. 


Salina:



Salina is the greenest of the volcanic islands around Sicily. I stayed at the 5 star hotel, Tenuta Capofaro owned by the Tasca wine family. The view from my room was magical: I had a lighthouse in my front garden, which was lit at night, strobing the sea, Stromboli puffing away a few miles in the distance.  

Breakfast at this hotel is one of the best in Sicily: the kitchen makes the yogurt, fresh ricotta, and preserves. Capofaro employs the award-winning Italian pastry chef, Gabriele Camiolo, to make the morning sourdough bread, pizzette (yes pizza is acceptable at breakfast in Sicily), cakes and doughnuts. It's worth staying just for the bread.


I didn't stay long enough to have dinner by executive chef Ludovico de Vivowho uses pasta made from their own Regaleali wheat, (but hand-crafted at Gragnano), their own olive oil, garden grown vegetables and locally caught fish. 



Colosi: 

Pietro Junior, Colosi vineyard, Salina, Sicily
Colosi vineyard, Salina, Sicily
Colosi vineyard, Salina, Sicily
Colosi vineyard, Salina, Sicily

Colosi is one of the most beautifully situated vineyards, the deep blue sea framing the background, that I've ever visited. The family took us to a taverna for dinner the night before, where we were served an enormous fish baked in salt then spectacularly set on fire. welcomed us to their house.

The whole family invited us to their house the next day, where we were handed plates of home-brined local capers on toast, cheeses, home-cured olives and a leisurely paced tasting of their wines. Each member of the family had a sign in the shape of a vine leaf, bearing their names, in their own vineyards.



Wine conference in Palermo 
mille et una notte wine, Donafugata, Sicily

For the second half of the trip, we stayed in Palermo, at The Centrale Palace, all pink marble floors and a wonderful roof terrace. There were dinners, walking tours, masterclasses in wine and a conference.
One day was spent visiting ancient palazzos. Until you have the privilege of being invited to the homes of the seriously wealthy, it's almost impossible to imagine just how rich they are. For example, one gilded and gorgeous palazzo, owned by the noble Florio wine family, had nine works by Damian Hirst in their front room. 

After a Michelin-starred buffet meal by chef Tony Lococo of Ipupi Ristorante, I tasted some wines. My technique was to go up to the soms and say:
 'What is your most expensive wine?'. 
Funnily enough I tend to like wines over £50 a bottle. 

My favourite wines at this tasting were Mille e una Notte by Dona Fugata, a jeroboam of Canicatti Aynat and Costa Ghirlanda wines from Pantelleria. 



Giulia Pazienza Gelmetti of Costa Ghirlanda on the island of Pantelleria, Sicily

The wine world is full of characters such as the white-maned former basket ball champion, Giulia Pazienza Gelmetti of Costa Ghirlanda on the island of Pantelleria. 


Vito Planeta, of the Planeta wine family, Sicily

Vito Planeta, the eldest son in the Planeta family. His younger brother Alessio is in charge of the wine, while Vito makes money playing online poker for large stakes. Vito is one of those people who knows everything: from Roman history to how to use different aubergines, to Corbynista politics. I thought he was pretty fanciable and wouldn't it be fantastic to have Planeta as a surname! (Practise scribbling Mrs Kerstin Planeta...)


The Last Day

The all male wine panel at Sicily en primeur, Palermo.

All the press gathered in the central courtyard of the Museo Riso for a wine panel. 

'It's all male' I whispered to my neighbour.
'It's Sicily' he shrugged. 'But in reality the women control everything.'

Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, who has transformed the city, made a speech exhorting people to visit. He said:

 'Forty years ago we were the capital of the mafia, now we are the capital of food and wine'. 

Now, try some Sicilian wine!

Planeta wine, Sicily
Jealous? Intrigued? Want to book a flight right now? I don't blame you. I often work with Winetrust100.co.uk who stock some great Sicilian wines. This is my favourite, Il Passo, Nerello Mascalese, Vigneti Zabu at only £12.50. But then I love a heavy red.


Roman faces, the sommelier at Nicosia winery, Sicily

Roman faces, the sommelier at Nicosia winery.

 *New Statesman wine columnist Nina Caplan's recent book 'The wandering vine: Wine, The Romans and Me' has a chapter on Roman era Sicilian wine.



Friday, 24 August 2018

Can your tomato glut in 20 easy steps

Canned or bottled tomatoes Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

Good tomatoes Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

This years heatwave has meant that most of us have been able to harvest our tomatoes early. By the end of September, English gardeners must pick the last tomatoes before they are blighted by damp British weather. You feel like you are drowning in tomatoes when the rush is on.

I planted mainly one variety last year, the tiny Red Pear, a lightbulb shape in an intense shade of red. My answer to using up the glut was a mixture of making passata (which can also be bottled using the same technique as below), sun-drying the tomatoes, or bottling the whole tomatoes. This way I had gorgeous 'tinned' tomatoes all winter, using techniques I learnt from I Sapori di Corbara, who were the winners of my Guardian taste test.

In the food business, tomatoes are judged by their Brix or sugar levels: good sauce tomatoes have a PH of 5 to 5.5 which means they are particularly sweet. 

Recently I was sent Torpedino tomatoes by Delitalia, which are similar in size and shape to San Marzano, with a high Brix level.

Historically tomatoes were more acidic than today, which meant that when canning or bottling, the food was 'safe'. You can pressure can tomatoes with a pH of under 4.6, but with modern sweeter cultivars you need to add bottled lemon juice or citric acid to prevent botulism.

How to can your tomato glut in 20 steps

What you will need: 

A pressure canner:
I bought mine over the internet, it's a Presto. Not to be confused with a pressure cooker. 
Appropriate jars:
Either Weck, Le Parfait, Ball, Mason or Kilner jars. I got lovely jars at Lakeland.
Spare lids or seals: 
Make sure the orange rubber seals or the inserts of a two part lid are always new.
Rubber seals can be softened by putting them in boiling water briefly.
Pickling salt
To season the tomatoes
Citric Acid
To make sure the tomatoes have enough acidity to be safely preserved.
White vinegar:
A couple of drops in the water of the canner means that the jars won't be stained.

Before you start:

Check the canner:
Tighten up screws.
Hold up the lid to daylight and make sure the pressure valve isn't blocked.

The canning

Canned or bottled tomatoes at the Corbarino factory  Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

1) Wash the tomatoes.

2) Pick over them and make sure they are not spoilt, bruised, split, or damaged.

I leave the skins on but if it's a particularly thick skinned variety, blanch the tomatoes briefly and slip off the skins.

3) Sterilise the jars by putting them through a very hot wash on the dishwasher and or/ putting them in the oven for 15 minutes.

4) Calculate 1/2 tsp citric acid and 1tsp pickling salt for each 1/2 litre jar. Double that for a litre.

5) Pack the jars with the clean tomatoes.

6) Fill up the gaps around the tomatoes with hot water (or warm tomato sauce, made from the same tomatoes), leaving an inch headspace. 

7) Using a sterile metal or plastic stick, slide it around the inside of the jars to remove any bubbles.

8) Put the two part lids on the jars, not too tight, hand-tight.

9) Fill the canner up to the lower mark with warm water.

10) Add a glug of white vinegar to the water.

11) Place jars in upright, with the rack underneath. Put the lid on the pressure canner and close, without the dial gauge.

12) On a steady heat, heat up the pressure canner till boiling, until steam starts to pop through the pressure valve. Then place the dial gauge on the valve. Bring up the pressure from 8 pounds to 10 pounds. Then lower the heat to keep it at 10 pounds.

13) Time your process, if you are at sea level, for ten minutes at ten pounds of pressure. Your Presto canner will rock gently. That's ok, it's normal. (If at any time the pressure is less than 10 pounds, you must start the count again.)

14) Remove from the heat or turn off the heat and leave to cool down and depressurise. Allow the pressure to drop naturally to zero. 

15) After waiting till the pressure canner is at zero of pressure, has cooled, and that there is no more steam coming from the valve, wear oven gloves to open the pressure canner. 

16) Remove the jars with a jar holder. Wait 12 to 24 hours for the jars to cool down.

17) Make sure the centre of the lids is concave. This is proof that the vacuum canning has worked. Remove the outer ring of the lid. If any of the jars have a convex lid, use within a couple of days.

18)  Label the now dry jars with the product/date.

19) 'Put up' your jars and enjoy garden picked tomatoes as good as fresh all winter.

20) Turn into tomato sauce for pasta or pizzas.


Canned or bottled tomatoes at the Corbarino factory  Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Tomatoes from Corbara  Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Tomatoes from Corbara  Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com
Canned or bottled tomatoes Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover.com

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Picnic at Waterlow Park

What a memorable summer it has been. We are lucky north of the river Thames to have green spaces to enjoy the good weather. But Hampstead Heath has been jam-packed with crowds vying for fresh air and shade, with queues for the ponds.
This weekend I visited Waterlow Park, one of North London's lesser known parks. This space, bequeathed to the nation by Sir Stanley Waterlow in 1889 as a 'garden for the garden less', is a shady, quiet haven of trees and ponds. At its edge, the elegant Lauderdale House has been running a series of free Sunday afternoon concerts.

I spent my Highgate childhood running around Waterlow Park, collecting buckets of frog spawn, teasing the caged birds, roly-polying down the steep hill, and it must be admitted, intermittently bunking off school. The views from the top rival those of Parliament hill: you can see The Shard. Benches line the paths, each with a different story, hinted at by a brass plaque in memoriam. 

There are three ponds, fed by natural springs, where ducks slide across the dark green water. Huge trees, oaks, sweet chestnuts, silver birches, bat boxes nailed to the upper reaches, span the walkways. Some of the more structured gardens contain marble sundials. In the meadow clearings, I'm sure I spied wild carrots. The air is fresher too.
It was the perfect day for a picnic. One of my guests, an Irish Coeliac, is gluten-free. So along with the classic wine, ginger beer, cheese, fruit and sandwiches, I made her a couple of gluten-free picnic dishes.
Other gluten-free picnic ideas include dolmades, vegetarian stuffed vine leaves or Vietnamese style rice paper summer rolls.


Baked Spanish tortilla

Serves 10 to 15 
You need: a bundt cake tin

In order to transport the tortilla, I baked it, rather than fried, in a bundt tin. I made such a big one that I ended up offering slices to everyone in the park! Traditionally it is made in a frying pan then upended onto a plate. Feel free to halve or quarter the recipe.

1 kilo cooked skinned potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 or 2 Spanish nyora dried peppers, soaked, deseeded, sliced (or any dried mild chilli)
3 or 4 tbsp olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 peppers, red, orange, green, thinly sliced
1 heaped tsp of smoked paprika
1 large courgette, thinly sliced into half moons
1 red chilli, deseeded, finely sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
18 eggs

To garnish, fresh coriander leaves and some hot sauce.

Prepare the potatoes, boiling them in salty water. Soak the peppers. Preheat the oven to 180C
Put the olive oil into a heavy bottomed frying pan.
Sweat the onions until pale gold and soft, add the garlic, the peppers, the paprika and the courgette.
Add both the dried Nyora pepper and the red chilli. Season with salt and pepper.
Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl.
Add the strained potatoes into the eggs. Season. Add the fried pepper mixture. Stir so that the vegetables and potatoes are evenly distributed.
Grease a bundt cake tin and pour in the egg and potato mixture.
Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a metal skewer can be inserted and come out clean.



Gluten free Strawberry and almond shortcake tart

For a rectangular tart tin

150g rice flour or gluten-free flour
100g almond flour or ground almonds
1tbsp Xanthan gum (adds stretchiness to gluten-free doughs)
100g caster sugar
1tsp fine sea salt
150g butter (salted or unsalted) cold, diced into cubes
2tbsp whole milk
300g strawberries, sliced thinly
Decorate with flaked or blanched almonds on top.
Milk to brush on top
Sprinkle with a little brown sugar

Combine flour, almonds, gum, sugar, salt together then rub in the butter until it forms fine breadcrumbs. Add the milk to pull it together.
Grease the tin well and press in the dough, reserving a quarter of it.
Preheat the oven to 180C
Chill the dough then add the sliced strawberries in overlapping layers. 
Use the rest of the dough to make long strips and place on top of the tart in criss-cross lattice style.
Dot the lattice triangles with almonds.
Brush whole milk onto the pastry.
Sprinkle with brown sugar.
Bake for 30-40 minutes.




Monday, 13 August 2018

Here's Jonny's... vegan cheese!




Two years ago Jonny Moore designed and sold kitchens. Now he's one of the UK's top vegan cheese makers. From his tiny kitchen in Northamptonshire, he's founded a thriving food business, the Naturally Vegan Food Company which manufactures vegan cheeses. 

Despite sounding like a contradiction in terms, vegan cheese is improving all the time. I even served Minister for the Environment Michael Gove and his wife journalist Sarah Vine a vegan cheese board when I catered a supper club for them at the end of last year. They were pleasantly surprised. At the moment the Naturally Vegan Food Company makes four cheeses:


  • 1 Smoked Vegan Cheeze Ball (150g)
  • 1 Vegan Cheeze Ball (150g)
  • 1 Creamy Classic Cashew Cheese Spread (180ml)
  • 1 Italian Cooking Cheese (300ml)
Jonny is originally from Manchester but when he met his long term girlfriend Zareen, he moved down to Northampton. I visited him at his kitchen in Northampton and asked: What started him working in food? 
I got a job at The Cheese Hamlet in Manchester and got really passionate about cheese. But I became vegan after a trip to India, which really inspired me. My girlfriend Zareen became vegan in the '90s then, motivated by the badger cull, she went completely vegan in 2010.Which meant I went completely vegan in the house. We obviously had to make meals that both of us could eat. Then I gradually went vegan all the time.
Is that because Zareen served vegan food?
Actually, I do most of the cooking.
Jonny made a fantastic vegan dinner and breakfast while I stayed with him, using local vegan products. There is a whole host of small producers in the vegan world but the supermarkets are starting to wake up to this demand. Jonny comments:
The thing about vegan food, you really have to work on flavours. When you are vegetarian, you can throw a bit of cheese on top, can't you? When you are vegan you really have to work on your food.
Was it difficult to set up the business? How did you come up with pricing? 
I looked at other artisan cheese makers and went under their price so my cheez ball is £5.75. I wanted it to be quite accessible for everybody. Not a lot of people can afford lavish cheese. We also do a £26 cheese selection box, with all four cheeses, including delivery. It was an unbelievable seller at Christmas, and in the Yumbles top ten products. It's been mentioned in the Guardian and the Independent.
From a non-chef point of view, how did you learn how to make a vegan cheese?
I experimented. I went and looked at an American site The Modernist Pantry had a cheese-making process. I made about 100 cheeses. I did the market research and changed the product to what people wanted. It did hit a sweet spot - there's a need for more vegan cheeses.
Your cheeses are all very flavoursome.
Vegan cheeses can be quite bland and plasticky. Onion powder, almonds, nutritional yeast, lactic acid, cashews. 
You could use the creamy cashew spread on a jacket potato or in a bechamel sauce. You could add tapioca flour to it, to make it more stringy. You can cook with it if you use a low temperature. 
I love your vegan parmesan. 
It's nutritional yeast, cashews, garlic powder. I've had an Italian guy who was passionate about his parmesan and he endorsed it. Sprinkle it on at the end.
When I was writing V is for Vegan, I made about 12 different cheeses. I prefer the nut cheeses to the coconut.
Everybody says that, yet there is a big market for the coconut-based cheeses.
The mouthfeel isn't great on coconut-based ones. There are three basic types of vegan cheese so far: nut cheese, coconut butter cheese and soy cheese. Have you had recipe development?
No, I just worked on it myself. There was a bit of trial and error. With the original cheese ball, it wasn't selling, then I added tomato powder to it, which made it sweeter, and it started selling well. It's all about pumping up the flavour.
With the chilli ball, it was too hot for people at first. We had to calm that down.
You eat it and then ten seconds later you get the chilli. We added more oil, then the oil sits on your tastebuds and dilutes the chilli.
You were literally in your kitchen, playing around with all these ingredients, just working it out. Jonny, this is your business, right? 
It is but Zareen helps me out.
Jonny's house is full of various types of packing material, ingredients and cool boxes. Plus a postage franking machine. With those little gel packs it can stay cool for 48 hours. You sell most of it through Yumbles online? 
Yes. We aim to deliver the next day in most of the UK. For certain parts of Scotland, it's two days but that's like 5% of our deliveries. If you spend over £20 then you get free delivery. So for the taster box, it's free delivery.
Have you got it in any shops?
Friendly Foods in Wolverhampton. The Daily Bread in Northampton. We are looking at Glasgow.
There's a massive vegan scene in Glasgow.

My American vegan writer friend Terry Hope Romero loves British vegan cheeses. Because American vegan cheeses are like American cheeses, a bit plasticky.

Where do you get your ingredients? Do you buy in bulk? Though I've noticed sometimes it's actually cheaper to buy in the supermarket.

Yes, it's been trial and error. For instance, the mustard. If you try those two mustards, they are completely different. Powder isn't as good as French mustard. We use fresh, not powdered. I use a mild French mustard, sweet and tangy. 
It's very interesting to hear all this, the process.
Partly it's health and safety, I have to get in touch with my suppliers and have products certified as fit for consumption. It's easier with high street supermarkets. 
I don't really buy from bulk anymore. I was buying big tubs and there was loads of husk. Now I buy my cashews from Lidl. 
I'm always seeing restaurateurs going into Lidl.

I was buying 25 kilo tubs, but the quality wasn't there.
Also nuts go off very quickly. I found when I used to buy big things of pine nuts and cashew nuts, they went off. I keep them all in the fridge. Especially pine nuts. Has anyone made a pine nut vegan cheese?
I did try but it's so expensive. Then it'd be £10 for 150g.
You could make little ones.
Or coat them?
How many cheeses have you sold so far in two years?
Let me grab my phone and work it out. I can tell you how many online orders I've had. I reckon it's 6,000 cheeses. I usually sell at least 100 cheeses a week. At shows I'll sell 200 cheeses. 9,000 cheeses over two years.
At Christmas I sold over 1,000 cheeses all sold in that kitchen. I had to get me cool boxes, and kept them outside.
It's like my home restaurant in winter: I use the outside as a fridge.

We need to do a vegan cheese and wine evening. I work with winetrust100.co.uk who do a lot of vegan wines.

What are your goals now?


Jonny is pretty clear on this:

  • Try and get into other vegan products.
  • Get premises, expand.
  • Spread the vegan message.
  • Get involved with grass-root charities, animal sanctuaries.
You and Zareen's vegan thing is about animal welfare and the environment?
I've always liked animals. My family are big animal lovers. She does a lot of work for animal sanctuaries, fundraising.
Does she want to join you in the business eventually?
Yes. I don't like to push the animal rights thing... I go for a gently gently approach, or people switch off.
I agree. I think the best way of spreading the message is making delicious food. Is there anything you miss?

Jonny laughs and says:
Cheese and ice cream.
Buy it at Yumbles.

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