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Homage to Fromage
CEDAR LEWISOHN: It’s 8 am on a drizzly London Tuesday morning. I’m at Bermondsey tube station. No, I’m not here to write a report on the latest South London commuter trends, I’m here for the love of cheese, specifically a cheese workshop called This is Not Cheese, It's Dynamite being staged as part of The Delfina Foundation’s The Politics of Food exhibition – the brainchild of artist collective Standart Thinking (aka Javier Rodriguez and Lise Hovesen).

As I’m waiting in the station’s ticket hall, I notice a few other arty types lurking in the shadows, who I assume are also here for the cheese. Eventually someone arrives with a Delfina tote bag, and the cheese freaks reveal themselves. There are about ten of us in total as we walk the short distance to the Kappacasein Dairy. This is the home of award winning cheese maker William Oglethorpe, whose cheeses have something of a cult status, as do his world renowned toasted cheese sandwiches. The Kappacasein Dairy produces five types of cheese: Bermondsey Hardpressed; Bermondsey Friar; Bermondsey Red, Spa Lactic and Ricotta. Inside the dairy, it feels a bit like stepping into the past, perhaps onto the set of Heidi, but at the same time, slightly futuristic, with equipment standing in a bright, science lab-like room which can be viewed through a large window. If there had been a cheese-making scene in 2001, A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick could have filmed it here. I’m particularly taken with a Giorgio Morandi-esque row of silver-grey milk churns.
 
Anyway, enough with the arty navel gazing, we’ve got cheese to make. Soon, about 300 litres of über-fresh milk arrives from a farm in Kent. The majority goes into a one-hundred-year old Swiss copper vat and starts to do its churning thing. This gives us some free ‘getting to know you’ time. I ask Javier from Standart Thinking why they’d organised the event in the first place. Over a glass of the delicious Kentish milk, he tells me: “The cheese workshop was an excellent opportunity to get our hands dirty in making a real thing, rather than philosophising about it. Artists should be more proactive in making useful and tangible matter.”

This attitude certainly gets my vote; quality cheese not speculative realism. But I’m still not sure how exactly this event is related to art. Maybe it doesn’t matter? Javier explains. “Culture making and art making are two inseparable activities. Food is a fundamental part of our culture, even though the contemporary mind tends to forget this.”   We get back to the thickening milk in the vat. At some stage I think something called a starter or rennet was added to this mix. And I think, at some stage, the milk is due to ‘split’; this is when the liquid mixture starts to solidify and is cut up into bits with a large cheese ‘harp-cutter’. Then, the solid parts (curds) and watery liquid (whey) are passed through cheesecloth. This leaves the curd, which is placed into moulds, which is weighted down and compressed several times (yes, these are the very same ‘curds and whey` that kept Little Miss Muffet occupied). Essentially, we now have cheese. It will be put into store, turned and washed with salty brine a couple of times a week for about eight months, at which point a lovely Bermondsey Hardpressed will be ready for consumption. Luckily, there is some available that was made earlier, and we happily tuck into it for lunch.

One of the artists in the group asks if it’s true that cheese can affect your dreams. The cheese buffs around me all concur that this is fact, with different cheeses having wildly differing affects. So, if it’s a late night snack you are after, go easy on that Gorgonzola.

This is Not Cheese, It's Dynamite with William Oglethorpe and STANDART THINKING took place on 11 February at the Kappacasein Dairy, London





 
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