Bill has always enjoyed making things from scratch, and earlier in his career he constructed buildings, grew crops, and made wine. He also trained with Swiss cheese makers and spent time making goat’s cheese on a farm in France, but it was not until after he got a job at Neal’s Yard Dairy that he became obsessed with cheese and firmly set his mind on becoming a cheese maker. He spent over a decade at Neil’s Yard, where owner Randolph Hodgson supported Bill to use the company’s cheeses to start making his soon-to-be famous raclette and toasted cheese sandwiches in Borough Market.
Kappacasein was founded in 2002, and eight years later Bill set up is dairy and started making Cheese in London. From the start Bill had a few clear principles for his cheese-making: organic milk, using the environment, not heating or cooling the milk excessively. "For me it means having confidence in nature, and not trying to control it, but nurturing it” he explains. When he set up the dairy “the decision-making was always based on quality, not quantity”. Most people sit down and work backwards from the scale and price the business needs to make a profit, and then base their equipment and processes on that, but Bill started the exact opposite way; he started with his principles and with a copper vat that he bought from Switzerland, and build the business around them.
The challenge with his approach he points out, is that “I need to hit some exceptional quality, otherwise I will never be able to be profitable”. Quality cheese starts with the milk, and as part of his cheese-making principles, Bill ensures that it is as fresh a possible. He picks up the the raw, organic milk from Bore Place in Kent straight after milking when it is still hot, and within an hour and a half the milk is in the vat in the dairy being made into cheese. An hour later the cheese is ready for pressing or storage.
Bill is also quite different in the cheese world in that he makes the entire spectrum of cheeses, from curd, to fresh soft cheeses (Spalactic), to fresh hard cheeses (Bermondsey Frier), and matured hard cheeses (Bermondsey Hard Pressed), adding butter to his product range as a way of using the left-over whey. Making a range of different cheeses, he says, "is quite difficult, because it takes your mind space away from just concentrating on one thing”. Why take on that challenge I ask? Is it boredom, or the desire for experimentaiton? “No” he says, cash flow is as important as anything to do with creativity, and “there is still a multitude of nuance within just the one product that is interesting”. Aha, I try again - the search for perfection? “I guess it is more like a conversation”, he corrects me. “Perfection might be an idea that you might have, and it is never achievable, so that is frustrating”, he pauses, “it’s really hard to be simple”.
I make a comparison to Zen meditation, how simple practices like focusing on the breath while sitting or on feet while walking reveal how distracted our minds are and how unattainable simplicity can feel. “Yes, I’ve tried zazen” Bill smiles, “I like the idea of deconstruction in the Zen tradition, that nothing is really fixed”. “Everything is a construction, in a sense” which means that it’s not all necessarily fixed, and "getting rid of the taboo, which is a constraint can lead to the recreation of tradition”.
Traditions are not necessarily romantic. We all follow traditions all the time. If you ask your accountant for advice, Bill says, "he will tell you to make the cheese into a block, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge so that it doesn’t lose its weight". The environmental health officer’s will say "pasteurise it and make it completely dead, then we won’t have any risk”. It is the déformation de professionelle - you start looking at everything with the with the eyes of productivity or safety. “That to me sounds really boring” Bill says and smiles, “I’m trying to get to the essence of milk and cheese”.
When you start believing in an end goal, that limits you. “The goals that are really interesting are the ones that you do not know about and discover on the way, not the ones you decide upon” from the outset. Traditions, technical skills, and experience are really valuable, but “when things become taboo, when you are not allowed to question things” then you are deciding that things will not change, “which is never true”, he adds. What is interesting to me is that “dialogue with myself, the outside world and other people” he reflects; “maybe it is all of those ideas that are guiding me”.