My Britain: Interview with Cheesemaker James Keen

    Portrait of James Keen. Credit: Gareth Iwan Jones

    James Keen is a fifth generation traditional cheesemaker based in Somerset. In his ‘My Britain’ interview, he told us why Britain makes good cheese and where best to buy it in London

    The Keens have been making cheese for 120 years. Our family moved to Moorhayes Farm in 1899 and I’m the fifth generation to do it. Years ago, if you had spare milk on a dairy farm in Somerset you made cheddar and we, as a family, stubbornly carried on.

    Britain makes good cheese. We’ve got a good climate for growing grass, so we’ve got good milk. It’s not just the traditional British cheeses like cheddar, but new businesses making European-style artisan cheese too.

    My favourite British cheese is Colston Bassett stilton. Some stiltons are a bit bitter, but this has got a nice ‘blue’ flavour to it.

    To buy good cheese, I’d recommend Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. The founder is a chap called Randolph Hodgson and he was instrumental in bringing the quality of traditional products to the forefront.

    Our farm is in Wincanton, Somerset. I like it because you can drive an hour in any direction and get somewhere interesting – you can go to the coast or you’re an hour away from Bristol, Bath, Salisbury and Stonehenge. People tend to drive through Somerset on their way to Cornwall but it’s a good place to stop.

    There are good gastropubs in our local area. We went to the Stapleton Arms in Buckhorn Weston recently for my wife’s birthday. We didn’t have any cheese, but the meal was good. I often stay away from the cheeseboard when I go out, just in case it’s not good.

    I’ve got young children and we’ve been on holiday a lot in Britain recently. We went to north Norfolk last year, which was nice. It’s interesting to visit different landscapes – Norfolk is very flat whereas Somerset is rolling hills. We’re thinking of going to north Wales next year because my son’s interested in trains and there are lots of steam railways there.


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