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Perry Wakeman of Papworth Business Park-based cheesemonger Rennet & Rind wins cheese crown again

Cheese monger Perry Wakeman has been named Affineur of the Year for the second year running.

Perry Wakeman. Picture: Keith Heppell
Perry Wakeman. Picture: Keith Heppell

Perry, from Papworth Business Park-based cheesemonger and distributor Rennet & Rind, was crowned at an event at London’s China Exchange, where eight experts from the world of cheese and hospitality judged the entries.

The competition invites affineurs – more on them shortly – from around the UK to showcase their cheese maturation skills.

Perry, 35, a former IT consultant who got interested in artisan cheese around 12 years ago, scooped the top prize for his affinage of a Baron Bigod, the British Brie-style cheese made at Fen Farm Dairy.

His unconventional methods of maturing this cheese led to a Caerphilly-style, which he named ‘Vacherin Not Dor’.

As well as the title of Affineur of the Year, Perry also won the best in class for the soft cheese category with the same cheese.

Unsure what an ‘affineur’ is? Fortunately Perry, who describes the achievement as “quite phenomenal really”, was happy to explain.

“What I do is pretty unknown in the UK,” he said. “After winning it the first time, you get into that zone where you’re like, ‘Oh, you can’t do it again’ – but I managed to do it again!

“So I was over the moon. I won in one category – soft cheese – and I was happy with that. Then when they said I won overall and then I was really happy! It was great news.”

Perry Wakeman, Affineur of the Year 2023
Perry Wakeman, Affineur of the Year 2023

Perry reveals that ‘affinage’ is a common practice in France and that the word in English essentially means “to refine” – so “refining cheese and maturing cheese”.

He continued: “In France, they’ll be a cheese maker and an affineur will go to them, take the cheese when it’s very, very young and put their own spin on it using selected pressures like temperature, humidity, time, brushing, turning, and we don’t do much of it here...

“We think you get the milk, then you make cheese and it’s here, but obviously when it’s artisan cheese, there are months and months on end in between of someone like me – an affineur – looking after that cheese and giving it everything it needs to taste the best that it can.”

Affineur of the Year, which is jointly organised and run by the Academy of Cheese and Quicke’s, is in its second year.

The line-up of competitors all brought their considerable experience to bear on each of their cheeses, using a combination of science and artistry honed over many decades.

All the cheeses were judged on aspects including flavour, aroma, texture, appearance and innovation. The audience watched as the results were announced live in front of a panel of judges, which was headed up by cheese writer and international cheese judge Patrick McGuigan.

The event, attended by more than 150 industry professionals, delegates of the academy’s training courses and cheese enthusiasts from around the world, is the only cheese competition which critiques and rewards the craft of affinage.

Similarly, it is the only competition which brings together the cheesemaker and cheesemonger to compete on the same stage.

Perry was trained in the craft by Frenchman Hervé Mons – “the godfather of affinage”. And it clearly paid off.

Perry Wakeman. Picture: Keith Heppell
Perry Wakeman. Picture: Keith Heppell

Perry says he would like to be a judge in next year’s competition in order to “give someone else a chance!”

Rennet & Rind mainly sells its cheeses online, although they are also available at Burwash Manor, the Bury Lane farm shop in Melbourn, Restaurant 22, Parker’s Tavern, The Gonville Hotel and at the University of Cambridge, which uses it for its high table cheese.

Rennet and Rind cheese manufacturers
Rennet and Rind cheese manufacturers

For more on the business, visit rennetandrind.co.uk. For more on Mons, go to mons-fromages.com/fr.

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