Local Hero: Jason Hinds, Neal's Yard Dairy

As a nation of cheese lovers, what better way to learn all about the art of making cheese than a visit to one of the UK’s finest cheese shops in the country, Neal’s Yard Dairy.

October 25th 2013

As a nation of cheese lovers, what better way to learn all about the art of making cheese than a visit to one of the UK’s finest cheese shops in the country, Neal’s Yard Dairy.

On a recent trip to London we met up with Jason Hinds, Sales Director and all round British cheese expert at the Dairy. Jason is passionate about cheese and part of his role is to ensure that perfectly matured cheeses reach their customers, including some of the finest restaurants and retailers in the world.

We asked Jason what he loves about Britain but the early morning visit was also to learn more about his craft and this thriving British business. After a brilliant tour of the cheese maturing rooms in Bermondsey, Jason talked to us about his passion for fine foods, and the whole ethos behind the business of buying, creating and selling cheese.

Could you tell us a little more about Neal’s Yard and the people behind the brand?
The dairy began life as a wholefoods warehouse in the late 1970’s, it was the brain child of Nicholas Saunders who saw potential in the then dilapidated and run down area called Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden. He managed to regenerate and breath life in to this now beautiful and sought after location, by creating the Dairy, Neal’s Yard Remedies (organic skin care and natural remedies) and The Monmouth Coffee Company.

Randolph Hodgson became the owner of the Dairy in the 1980’s, armed with a food science degree and a love of cheese, he continues the legacy originally set down when the business was founded.

Could you tell us more about your shops and where the cheeses come from?
The Diary runs its own creamery and buys cheeses from over seventy farms around Britain. They also sell them to shops all over the world including their own original shop in Covent Garden, and in the bustling Borough Market shop.

You mature your own cheeses; tell us more about this and the process behind this integral part of the business
To cope with wholesale demand we rented 3 railway arches in Bermondsey London. The arches contain 4 temperature and humidity controlled maturing rooms. This allows us to create the perfect soft cheeses as well as the hard cheese. The location also provides storage and it’s where we pack our wholesale orders and ship these to customers all over the world. Our team takes care of the cheese, turning the cheeses in our purpose built environment, brushing and washing them until they ripen.

Which cheeses do you sell and how do you select them?
I travel to each cheesemaker to select the best products to sell in our shops. Some of them we have had relationships with for years, so I know each one of them and that way we get the quality and understand how each variety is produced. The type of cheeses we sell range from a Cashel Blue, which is the original Irish Farmhouse cow’s milk blue cheese, right through to an Isle of Mull Cheddar - a traditional artisan farmhouse cheese. Having our shops really allows us to learn more about the customers; sometimes customers will visit the store with a specific purchase in mind, taste something, and be completely taken with something they have never tried before.

What is the ethos of the business?
Apart from trying to find the best cheese available on the market, we keep close contact to our suppliers and I visit them regularly all over the UK. Having worked with them for over 20 years, we are able to pass on a quality product to the customer through our shops.

Education also plays a big part and we also run cheese-tasting sessions which include learning about the process, sometimes involving the UK cheesemakers. These evenings are informal and we taste a range of artisan cheeses along with a few glasses of wine, sharing tasting notes and learning about the region where they are produced.

Finally, what is your favourite part of Britain?
I visit the west country quite a lot, and that is beautiful. Also, Scotland’s coastlines and the Northumberland area is one of my favorite places. I think the entire British Isles is full of beauty and wonderful producers, we have lots of little pockets of artisan producers that are still coming to fruition, including some great new cheese producers which we hope to work with in the future.

Watch our interview with Jason on YouTube