For the first edition of 2023, we’re thrilled to share our conversation with Perry Wakeman, chief of cheese at Rennet & Rind. Perry is Britain’s first-ever Affineur of the Year, a World Cheese Awards Judge & Academy of Cheese patron – renowned for his vast knowledge on cheese. Located in Cambridge, Rennet & Rind is an award-winning cheesemonger, sourcing and maturing artisan British cheese, lovingly aged in the maturing rooms on site.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how Rennet & Rind started.
I am the Chief of Cheese at Rennet & Rind, based in Cambridge, UK. I suppose what I am personally known for is the part I play in Affinage in Britain. For the uninitiated, Affinage is the art of maturing cheese and appears to be growing exponentially. I love sharing my experiences and experiments when I develop a cheese to hopefully inspire or help budding cheese makers and maturers! We have won multiple awards, and I have been honoured with the title of Britain’s first-ever Affineur of the Year.
Rennet & Rind was a concept that we had been working on for some time after refining a few cheese profiles and identifying the considerable benefit that our customers felt from having different profiles of cheese to pick from. This led us to invest in cheese maturing rooms where we could use traditional wooden shelves and strictly control temperature and humidity to enhance cheese quality. Plans for a launch were progressing nicely then the pandemic came along. Restaurants were forced to close, and some British artisan cheesemakers were in danger of becoming extinct. We had to do something to help. The Rennet & Rind logo was designed in a day, and we built a website in under a week. Rennet & Rind, as a brand, was born. Our flagship product, ‘Mystery Cheese Box,’ launched featuring five British artisan cheeses matured by us, with tasting notes and a weekly video of me presenting the cheese. It was a great success, and Rennet & Rind has gone from strength to strength since then. I am proud of our role in supporting British artisan cheesemakers to get through the most challenging time in our industry.
Overall, Rennet & Rind is a labour of love for all of us involved, and we’re proud to share our passion for cheese with our customers.
What does a typical day involve?
The day starts with a walk around the maturing rooms. We are micro affineurs, so this doesn’t take too long, but it’s essential for me to examine the cheeses, inspect the rinds, iron a few if needed and update their maturing process. I will also check that the conditions in the maturing rooms are where I need them to be, and I might need to tweak the temperature and humidity. Later in the week, after we have received some fresh batches, I will spend more time turning cheeses, brushing or washing the rinds and doing some tasting to monitor progress.
Then it’s time to catch up with the sales team for a morning briefing where I run through the best cheeses in the rooms and talk about the cheese profiles that might suit particular customers and which the team can bring into their conversations.
I will then review some sales data to see which cheeses are trending, what feedback we are getting from customers, and how we are doing operationally. I will also review our social media activity and create new videos for posting. I also make regular visits to customers and artisan cheesemakers, which helps me keep up to date with the latest developments and provide some training to our deli customers.
Rennet & Rind is renowned for ageing and grading the finest British cheeses. Can you explain how the cheeses are stored at the shop?
We store our cheeses in our cheese maturing rooms. The rooms have been purposely designed to allow me to apply my affineur skills to the cheeses we obtain from our artisan cheesemakers. Temperature, humidity, time and how the cheese has been cared for play a significant role in creating unique, amazing and complex profiles of cheese.
From the initial assessment of the type of cheese, its condition, rind development, texture, and aroma, I can quickly assess how it should be treated in our maturing rooms.
Each batch of cheese is unique, so it’s important to be able to treat each batch differently. This may mean an initial period in our ‘sechoir’ or drying room at an elevated temperature prior to transfer to our main maturing room. Regular observation and testing after that will determine how often the cheese needs turning, brushing, or washing. We aim to ensure that each cheese is at its best when it arrives with our customers.
What makes British cheese so special?
I always like to start with our high-quality milk. Our cows, sheep, and goats graze on lush green pastures across our lands, and we have this truly outstanding and unique climate, soil, and terrain creating such a diverse range of flora and fauna that contribute to the distinctive ‘British’ flavours in our cheeses that is quickly becoming admired around the world.
Then there’s our deep and rich cheesemaking heritage. Most of our regions have unique cheesemaking traditions. This results in generational refinements and knowledge being passed down, and our community are a bunch of sharers! If you’ve discovered a technique that works and improves your cheese, you bet that information will be passed on to other cheesemakers to further strengthen our cheesemaking prowess. As an artisan, we always put quality first, which is becoming more understood and respected by the people who buy cheese. The public is now truly getting behind this industry, dropping heavily manufactured cheese and opting for more thoughtful, complex and longer cheese which carries many benefits, not only nutritionally but societal. Better regenerative farming methods, more ethical practices and wiser economic choices by supporting smaller independent family businesses. If our cheese is this great now, I can’t wait to see it evolve even further in the next ten years.
Tell us your favourite cheese and Peter’s Yard cracker pairing?
My favourite pairing, which everyone was a little mad for, was discovered on a Podcast with a friend and culinary legend, James Golding. First up, the Peter’s Yard Original Sourdough Cracker – can’t beat the original. Topped with British Pecorino Blue made by Mario in Yorkshire, it has an unbelievably smooth texture with a rich and intense piquancy, followed by pepper, piquant sour bursts and then just a dash of the finest maple syrup. I will not say any more, but it is unbelievable.
In our virtual tastings, one question keeps popping up. “Which biscuits are the best with cheese?”. Do you go sweet, plain, fruity, zesty, or crunchy? The options are endless. However, I do love a biscuit that doesn’t hog the limelight, although it may play a part as an operator of said limelight. A cracker that unashamedly says, “hey, cheese, you’ve got this.” always is the Peter’s Yard Original.
Finally, what’s planned for Rennet & Rind this year?
We never stand still and continue to learn about the beautiful things that make cheese what it is. We plan to continually improve what we do. To grow our customer base through social media presence and regular interactions with cheese lovers everywhere. Finally, we will continue to herald and support the tremendous work done by artisan cheesemakers throughout the UK and play our part in providing the finest cheese to our customers.
Discover more about Rennet & Rind here.