LET THEM EAT CHEESE
FIFTEEN STORIES CATCHES UP WITH THOMAS HANSoN, WHo TRAVELs Throughout the CORNish county delivering speciality cheeses.
~ words and images by beth druce.
"Chefs are like children in sweet shops when I open the doors" exclaims Thomas Hanson, whose company, Hanson Fine Foods, has been wooing the restaurants of Cornwall, including Fifteen, with an exceptional selection of cheeses for the past 12 years. Described as a 'delicatessen on wheels', Hanson took his business on the road after hearing about a similar set-up. "I wanted to be in business for myself. I only knew about food, drink and the hospitality region, I didn't want to have premises and I knew I was looking at a van sale business, but what? I was told of a van that sold cheese, so I bought a van, bought some cheese and started with just four customers".
Fast forward to 2018 and Thomas Hanson is a much-loved figure on the Cornwall food scene, serving a substantial 100 and more customers from Bude to Saltash to Sennen each week, all of whom are cheered by his warm, friendly manner and van packed full of dairy delicacies. When I visit him at the end of a day on the road I am wowed by the vast extent of cheese that he carries; soft, hard, creamy, mature, blue-veined, orange-hued, sharp, salty, crumbly and mellow are bases all covered by Hansen.
As we navigate the shelves that are packed with both Cornish cheese alongside cheese from other parts of the UK, Hanson picks out a few wheels for inspection. I'm taken by the Pennard Ridge Road, a goats' cheese that hails from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, and has a vibrant orange hue. There are many Cornish favourites; Cornish Blue, Cornish Yarg and its new, award-winning sister Cornish Kern, Grey Goats cheese from Polmarkyn Dairy, and the pretty veined Helford Blue and its quirky alter ego, Helford Sunset. Relatively new on the scene are cheesemakers Curds & Croust, whose "Boy Laity" camembert and "Miss Wenna" Brie hail from the dairy recently launched by clotted cream producer Roddas.
"The Cornish cheese market is evolving in line with the National cheese market" explains Hanson. "There are a number of new Cornish cheeses that have European roots, such as the Cornish Gouda and Cornish Jack (which take inspiration from Dutch Gouda and a traditional Swiss cheese respectively). There are also cheeses that are more British in style such as the St Gluvias (a hard-pressed farmhouse cheese that references traditional flavours). Tastes are changing, but there is always a market for mild farmhouse cheeses".
Fifteen Cornwall's head chef Adam Banks has been buying cheese from Hanson for a number of years, and notes how "It's a very personable relationship that Thomas delivers, and we have a great rapport with him". Banks enjoys the extent to which "we get to stick our nose in the van and pick up cheeses and ask questions about what is good right now, so that we can offer our customer the cheese at its best. Currently we are buying cheeses from him that feature in our filled pasta, and as an ingredient in a dressing for small dishes such as beef carpaccio with goat's cheese dressing and rocket, and also on our dessert menu. I really appreciate this little bit of learning we get to do", Banks continues. "We always make sure that the apprentices go up to the van with the chef to have a look and a listen, and to hopefully build a love for cheese too".
Before I leave, I ask if Hanson enjoys eating cheese at home, or if he has seen enough of it come the end of the day? "I do, but it's usually a new cheese or the scrag ends that we end up eating". Does he have a favourite? He replies no, but quickly quantifies that, noting how it depends on the time of day, and what else is on the table. "Whether it is lunch, or dinner, or a Ploughmans with bread and a glass of red wine, there is a cheese for every occasion".