The founder and cheesemaker-in-chief at Kupros Dairy discusses design, dialect and the challenges of making Cypriot cheese in London
An industrial estate. A densely populated suburb in North London. It’s not the natural habitat of your typical artisanal cheesemaker. Pop down to your nearest deli, and you’re more likely to find wheels of cheddar and soft, herby pats of goat’s cheese than you are a pack of Anthony Heard’s blancmange-looking Anglum cheese.
But then Anthony Heard is not your typical artisanal cheesemaker, and he has no interest in being so. Half Cypriot, the cheeses he makes have been passed down from his great-grandmother. Sure, he’s London born and bred, but his calling in life is to translate his great-grandmother’s largely anecdotal recipes into delicious, award-winning, every day cheese.
You left university as a qualified graphic designer. Now you’re a cheesemaker in London. What lead you here?
It is an interesting mix of wants, needs and desires. I graduated back in 2011 and quickly found myself in an internship, but I couldn’t live off it. On top of that, I felt the creative industry in London had become a bit flat. I worked for a few years in these hostile conditions, but then thought what is the point: I can’t afford rent, and I’m putting a lot of time and effort into other peoples projects. At the same time, I was making sourdough at home, and really enjoyed the process. One afternoon I overheard my Cypriot relatives talking about old village recipes, and eventually we got onto discussing my great-grandmothers cheese.
Did you know you great-grandmother was a cheesemaker?
Not at all. At first I couldn’t understand why we’d not talked about it, but back in those days, making cheese was not at all exceptional or glamorous. It was just a necessity. I realised I had something in my family that I was very passionate about. The British food scene was gaining momentum, and people were starting to talk about stuff being made properly once more. So I cracked on with trying to make it – not to sell, just because I was curious.
Where did you find the recipe, if it’s not written down and it’s hard to get hold of?
I tried to replicate word of mouth recipes from my family, but they made absolutely no sense to me. The Cypriot dialect is complex, and it doesn’t conform to the language of mainland Greece. The number of translatable recipes is tiny. It was only when I bought some dairy science books to understand the principles of cheesemaking that the anecdotes people told me started to make sense.
How many goes did it take to get right?
Countless. I started off with milk from the supermarket (pasteurised and homogenised) and it was atrocious, so I travelled the country to get enough raw sheep and goat’s milk. Some people said I should make with cow’s, but I was adamant that I use sheep or goat’s as that is what my great-grandmother would have used.
Most people’s experience of Greek and Cypriot cheese is the industrially produced feta and halloumi found in supermarkets. How do you get them on board?
In the last 20 or 30 years we have gone from having limited, seasonal food to having anything at our disposal, any time of day or year. You have big discounters and industrial scale producers, and it has really skewed our idea and knowledge of how food ends up in the fridge. That needs fixing. Food is the cheapest it’s ever been if you look at the price tag – but there are other costs beyond that. For example, one of the reasons my cheese is a few quid more than that in the supermarket from Greece or Cyprus is because I pay my staff more than two quid an hour, and I pay a fair price for locally, ethically sourced raw milk.
The cheeses you make started life as an everyday ingredient, made by hand in a tiny village of subsistence farmers. How important is it that your cheese stays true to those origins?
I’m not looking for total authenticity, but I think certain sensibilities can be authentic. In my grandmother’s village each household had a couple of goats or sheep, and at the end of the week they would pile the milk together and make cheese or yoghurt in a collective, collaborative effort. They weren’t special occasion cheeses, they were just good cheeses, to be eaten every day. So I don’t want our cheeses to be perceived as a luxury product. Of course, we want to be able to make a livelihood out of it, but we’re producing at the minimum we can afford to. It’s not expensive – it’s just more expensive than what people are used to.
What are the pros and cons of being a cheesemaker in London?
On the one hand it’s incredibly satisfying: I see chefs every week, they call up for tastings, there are restaurants and cafes which have my cheese on the menu and I can eat in them. The downside is that we are in one of the most densely populated cites in the world. This means all the wholesalers and distributors are situated in and around London, making our food even cheaper than it is in the rest of the country. Add to that we are the only artisanal producer of this type of cheese and we have given ourselves a pretty high mountain to climb, but I think we’ll get there.