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Award-winning cheese-makers Anne and Andy Wigmore, of Riseley, certainly have something to smile about. Their product is in demand from delis to Harvey Nic's...
IMAGES: Jeff Hopkins
How long have you been making cheese?
We started Village Maid in 1986 when we lived in Spencers Wood, two miles from Riseley, in a small purpose-built room in the back garden. I worked at the National Institute for Research in Dairying in Shinfield for 10 years and learnt how to make cheese there, experimenting with different milks and types of cheese. My husband was a freelance journalist and slowly did more and more cheese-making until he was full-time.
What first made you go into the business?
We wanted to set up our own small business from home before starting a family and as I had visited several small cheese-makers in my job at the NIRD I was very keen to develop a cheese of our own.
Tell us about your cheeses.
We make three different cheeses by hand using vegetarian rennet, without artificial additives. Spenwood is a hard-pressed cheese made from unpasteurised ewe's milk. It has a nutty flavour but, kept longer, it becomes harder and more piquant and a good substitute for parmesan. Wigmore is a nutty flavoured, semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurised ewe's milk. Waterloo is a mild, semi-soft Guernsey milk cheese with a buttery flavour and a sharp after-taste. Its yellow colour is due to the natural carotene in the unpasteurised milk which comes from a single herd of pedigree Guernsey cows.
What's the philosophy behind Village Maid?
We have kept the business small in order to keep a hands-on approach and maintain a good quality of life while our children have grown up. The quality of the cheese is far more important to us than the quantity. We make around a thousand cheeses a week and still don't have enough most weeks to satisfy the orders. Even after 20 years we are still tweaking the recipes that we originally developed to maintain consistency and reach perfection.
What makes you different from other cheesemakers?
Hand-made cheese is very labour intensive and we have an invaluable team of local part-time ladies working with us to keep production going. We produce quality cheeses, each with a unique flavour, without mechanisation.
Who are your customers?
Local farm shops and delis, Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls, and a lot of local restaurants including L'Ortolan, Shinfield, My A La Carte, Caversham, The Mill House, Swallowfield, The Crown, Playhatch, LSq2, Green Park, Reading, Crown Plaza, Reading, The New Mill, Eversley.
Have you won any awards?
At the annual British Cheese Awards over the past 14 years Wigmore has won 11 Gold awards, Best English Cheese twice and Best Semi-soft Cheese twice. Spenwood and Waterloo have won Gold, Silver and Bronze awards with Spenwood getting Best Cheese Lovers award once.
Where can we buy your cheeses?
Local farm shops and delis: Wellington Farmshop, Stratfield Saye; Lockey Farmshop, Arborfield; Wickcroft farmshop, Theale; County Deli, Reading; Grey's Deli, Pangbourne; Casey Fields farmshop, Ashampstead; Roots Deli, High Wycombe. Mail order from Neal's Yard Dairy and Fine Cheese Co Bath.
Find out more: Anne and Andy Wigmore. The Cottage, Basingstoke Road, Riseley, Reading, Berkshire RG7 1QD. Tel: 0118 9884564