Mar 3, 2021
Knowing the first episode of our second season would be published the first week of March, it was obvious we needed to talk about the Cheese-A-Day Challenge started by "Farmer Tom" in the UK had to be discussed!
Let's start with the reality that the farmer who started the Cheese-A-Day Challenge, a taste-sensation for the month of February isn't a dairy farmer! In fact, he primarily grows arable crops including wheat for baking, barley for beer, and they also produce lamb. Tom says all of it works together in building soil health with rotations and grazing.
If you listened to season 1 of Grounded by the Farm, you know we have done episodes on all of those foods, but hearing about how they are grown on Tom's farm in the East of England is definitely different. And I had to laugh that I'm sitting in St. Louis and interviewing a farmer on the other side of the Atlantic to find out he grows a specific barley for Budweiser!
Farmer Tom's been doing the cheese-a-day challenge for a few years now. He says he started doing it because he only really knew two types of cheese -- cheddar and Stilton -- and yet, the country has more than a thousand different cheeses. So in February, a time some call Februdairy, he tries a different cheese every day.
You may enjoy the fact that Tom couldn't help but be amazingly proud of the dairy produced close to home as he boasts the history of English cheeses and their superiority to French cheese, even though the French & Belgians may have a bigger cheese reputation. Tom's helping put that to bed.
He's shared it on Twitter, where he goes by @Farmer_Ton_UK, the last couple of years, but it kept gaining speed. This year, not only did he post videos on Twitter, but he put longer versions on YouTube. And this was the first year that he worked with a cheese shop on boxes. Almost 100 people subscribed to the series and got small shipments of cheeses without labels so they could participate in a blind taste test! You can browse the Twitter hashtag #cheeseadaychallenge to see the fun!
While I interviewed Tom in the middle of the challenge, I asked him this week, what cheese was his favorite. You can see it here. In this video like everyday. He talks to someone who is involved in UK agriculture. You can watch the highlights on Tom's favorite cheese day in the Twitter edit or the full video here. That's Tom on the right and the head of the National Farmers Union on the left!
While talking with Tom, I mentioned the chance I had recently to do a virtual cheese tasting with the folks at Midwest Dairy. They compiled a selection of cheeses from various parts of the midwest and sent a box to several of us cheese enthusiasts! My favorite was a soft cheese called Milk & Honey from Edgewood Creamery! Here's a list of the range of cheeses we had the chance to taste and like Tom, some of the pairings we had were great!
Farmer Tom mentioned raising sheep which brings me back to lamb. The grazing of sheep and other smaller mammals like goats is definitely something that has a good fit in some areas of the world. As we discussed in an earlier episode, sheep can sometimes fit landscapes that aren't well-adapted for other animals.
As someone who enjoys lamb, I love that he has a lamb biriyani recipe demo on his YouTube channel. Check it out.
Farmer Time -- Connecting Farmers & Classrooms
As if farming and organizing a month of cheese eating wasn't enough to keep Farmer Tom busy, he's started an organization called Farmer Time (farmertime.org.uk) where farmers are connected with classrooms for on-going interactions.
Although it's started in the UK, they have already begun expanding it to several markets. The website serves as a connecting point with farmers and teachers entering their information into the site for pairing. And it builds direct connections between farmers and the classrooms where students can ask farmers questions about the topics they are studying!
Farmers join the classes via Facetime, Skype or other video conferencing so students on a fortnightly basis (every other week like this podcast!). That gives the class a chance to see what's happening quickly.
Farm website: VillageFarm.org.uk