The Producers: Bookham Fine Foods Ltd
PUBLISHED: 11:15 22 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:19 20 February 2013
The Bookham family produces wholesome Italian-inspired cheeses from their farm in Arlington. MD Rob Bookham tells Kate Eastman about his mission to bring simple, wholesome food to the farmers' markets of Sussex
Situated in the heart of the Sussex countryside is delightful family-run fine food company Bookhams. MD Rob Bookham has a diverse role within the company, ranging from making pasta in the morning to delivering high-powered presentations to senior food buyers in the afternoon. Most weekends I can be found donning a bowler hat at a farmers market somewhere in the south east," says Rob. We are now in our 11th year but I was interested in farming from an early age. I studied Agriculture at Plumpton College and my interest in cheese started in the mid 90s, when I became involved with an Italian family in Twineham who wanted to make vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese in Sussex, for export to Italy. When I suggested to them that they should be selling the cheese to a British audience, they were not interested. Motivated by a strong belief in the cheese, I booked a stall at Plumpton Agricultural College Open Day armed with some cool boxes, and I was amazed at how quickly the cheese sold. Thence Rob Bookham, purveyor of fine cheese was born.
Robs wife Claire had lived in Bologna for seven years and had a penchant for straightforward but imaginative Italian food. Claire was keen to develop a versatile range of wholesome, appetising meal solutions for the time-poor consumer. Claire helps me with the overall planning of the business and gets involved in the marketing side, including our mail order business which has grown enormously over the last 12 months.
Claire remains heavily involved in the development of our range of pasta products. It has always been her aim to provide straightforward, honest and super-easy food for the family, free from any of the nasties commonly found in ready meals.
In 2008 Bookham partnered up with the Harrisons, third generation dairy farmers of Rudgwick, from whom they had been purchasing milk used to make the Parmesan-style cheese. This new partnership was born from the desire to create a wholly unique cheese, which combined the production methods of a traditional farmhouse cheese with that of a Parmesan, says Rob. Sussex Charmer was born and in its first season won Best New Dairy Product at Nantwich International Cheese Awards, the largest in the world.
R. Harrison & Sons and Bookham jointly own Sussex Charmer and all the milk for this cheese comes from cows which graze Sussex Pasture either side of A281 just north of Horsham.
We currently produce just short of one tonne of Charmer per week.We also make four varieties of pasta sauce, from a plain tomato to a spicy tomato with black olives. Committed as we are to helping to sustain British agriculture, we only use 100% UK milled durum wheat and locally sourced ingredients to produce our range of fresh and dried pasta products. This includes fresh ravioli and unfilled pasta, egg-free dried pasta, potato gnocchi and Sussex Charmer macaroni cheese. Our South Downs Butter has won Gold at the Great Taste Awards for five years in a row and all products including our cheeses are Vegetarian Society approved.
Bookhams Our Not just a Pasta Cheese has historically been their bestseller and led to being listed among Delia Smiths top 18 suppliers in her Happy Christmas cookbook. However, Sussex Charmer is fast proving to be a rival, due to its broader appeal and greater versatility as both a cooking and eating cheese.
In the summer months, Tim Harrison and Rob hit the road with their Charmer on Toast wagon, feeding cheese on toast to punters at Goodwood, Hickstead, Ardingly and music festivals further afield. Once I sold pasta to Kate Moss. I did think she was very pretty, but little did I realise I was serving probably the most famous supermodel in the world! he recalls.
Not Just a Pasta Cheese is on sale in Waitrose, Sussex Charmer can be found on Sainsburys deli counter and South Downs Butter is available from Asda.
Mail order and details of your nearest stockist or farmers market are available from the Bookhams website: www.bookhams.com
Another Sussex cheese producer
High Weald Dairy was established in 1988. Their cheesemakers produce an award-winning range of cheeses from organic sheep and cows milk, including hard and soft English-style cheese as well as halloumi and other Mediterranean-style cheeses.