Hampshire Cheese Company has grown from strength to strength. Stacey Hedges, founder, credits its success to her expert team. Over the coming weeks we’ll introduce the team so integral to these award winning cheeses. Today we meet Stacey.
Q. Where did your passion for cheese stem from?
I grew up in Australia. My father worked for Qantas so we travelled a lot. The youngest of three siblings, my parents loved to entertain and we were a busy household! We are all very interested in food and travel and large family gatherings are a regular feature of all our lives.
Q. Do you have any training in food manufacture/cookery?
I studied at Sydney University – initially for teacher training. I was passionate about food so decided to move away from teaching and explore the world of food. I worked in restaurants and catering in Sydney, and then came to London and worked in the catering industry for several years before moving to Hampshire.
Q. When did you start working with cheese?
I started making cheese in my kitchen in 2003 when my youngest child was three. I bought two milking goats and made curd cheese at home. I loved it! I signed up to a few courses and read all I could on cheesemaking – I had a huge thirst for knowledge and wanted to really refine my understanding. Quickly realising I wasn’t going to be a goat farmer, I started collecting milk from a local dairy herd and used this to start experimenting with cows milk cheeses – the goat’s milk went to another cheesemaker in Sussex!
Q. How did this cottage industry become Hampshire Cheese Company?
By 2005 when my youngest child started at school I was completely hooked on cheesemaking and decided to set up a small creamery to see if it could be a viable business.
Q. At that point, what was your vision for Hampshire Cheese Company?
I was pretty bold – I wanted to make the best soft cheese in the UK!
Q. Has your vision evolved?
As the business has evolved so has my vision. It is critical to continue making the best possible cheese – this is how we keep winning awards. But now, I am also keen to grow the business, increase the range of products and build a bigger brand. We are building a bigger creamery where the public will be able to come and watch the cheesemaking process. Excitingly we also have concepts in development for a new hard cheese.
Q. What is Hampshire Cheese Company’s mission?
To grow the brand awareness and reputation for our delicious unique cheeses.
Q. How do you stay one step ahead?
Staying on top of trends and new skills is critical – I regularly visit cheesemongers as well as other cheesemakers. I go to cheese conferences to learn more. I’ve visited cheesemongers in the US and Australia to increase our export trade.
Building our brand is critical. We already run an active marketing campaign and will continue our extensive series of tours with chefs, students, farmers and cheesemongers to creamery. This momentum will evolve as we grow!
Q. You are very proud of your specialist team – tell us a little about them!
We have a small dedicated and very loyal team. Charlotte (Spruce) has been with me since 2006 and now runs the operations side of the business. She used to manage front of house at restaurants so is fantastic with training people, running a tight ship and now an incredible cheesemaker!
I have been very fortunate in my choice of working partners. Charlotte as head cheesemaker/ head of operations and my business partner Ulf who has taught me so much about running a business successfully.
Most of the staff have been with me for years and have backgrounds in the food industry, from butchers, bakers, pastry chefs, chefs and front of house. They all work incredibly hard but are very proud of the products we make.
Q. How would you describe yourself…..
Determined, resilient, hard working.
Q. … and how would others describe you!
Determined, ambitious, creative, reliable, trustworthy and adaptable.
Q. How would you like to be perceived by others?
Fun, interesting, loyal.
Q. Apart from cheese … what are you passionate about?
Family, food, travel, new products and restaurants, literature, learning – I have returned to taking Italian lessons after a 30 year break – hoping it will help with my memory in old age!!!!
Q. What talents and skills do you have?
A Good palate, ability to make food taste good! Confident with all sorts of people. Interested in other people.
Q. And finally …. a thank you!
My best friend at primary school in Australia was Italian and I spent a lot of time at her house. Her parents were amazing cooks and I loved eating exotic things like artichokes fresh from their garden. They made their own pasta and delicious gelato and it started my love affair with food and anything Italian.