BRADBURY & Son – Report Back

“Smile, Say Cheese!” With Richard Paul, Sourcing Director of Bradbury & Son Ltd.

Report of meeting with RICHARD PAUL Sourcing Director of BRADBURY & Son CHEESE

Friday May 17th 2019 at Chapel Golf Club.

Cheese board

Our original speaker having let us down almost at the last minute, we were really lucky to welcome The Cheese Man, Richard Paul. When he arrived carrying cheeseboards and boxes of wonderful artisan cheese, our spirits rose. Bradbury’s is competing successfully with the world’s leading producers; his knowledge is phenomenal. But a business crossing continents with high quality perishable foodstuffs also needs daring and imagination, for the logistics would make a saint weep.

Richard’s father George Paul had a Dutch cheese agency, and they took over the 130-year-old Buxton-based operation in 1994. At that stage it was selling about £4.5millions’ worth to over 700 outlets, mostly small grocers, often delivering only a single pack of cheese. In Buxton alone they had 27 outlets. Little of this was making money, and had to go. The retail multiples were the target; landing ASDA in the 1990s doubled the business overnight.

These days sales split three ways: retail (still mostly supermarkets particularly Waitrose), food service (restaurants, pubs, airlines), and export, sending British, Irish and continental cheeses to 32 countries including Canada and Australia, where the most popular import is English Red Leicester.

Turnover today is £70 million, and growing. The airlines are excellent customers: “Every Airbus flying over Buxton has our cheese on board,” Richard said proudly. And yes, it is different cheese in First Class. One issue is that Emirates Airlines’ 15,000 cabin crew mostly come from countries which don’t have cheese products. That takes Richard regularly to Dubai to train them.  Nice one.

In Britain, we have strange attitudes to food. We pay more for bottled water than for bottled milk, yet increasingly we want good cheese and are prepared to pay for it. Richard said, “People travel much more. In Spain you’ve tasted real manchego, in Greece feta. It’s a natural product, you can’t cheat it. That’s what you want when you come home,” Richard said.

cheese - Richard Paul of Bradbury's and ECJ

So the key is knowing their suppliers, and working with them as partnerships. “Think of it as mountains and valleys,” Richard explained. “The mountains are big manufacturers like ARLA (cottage cheese) and Dairy Crest (Cathedral City cheddar). We don’t compete with them. The valleys are thousands of smaller producers throughout Europe, even family firms producing just one type of cheese native to their area. They’ve been doing it for generations. Their reputation is vital to them. So it is with us: I haven’t time for problems.”

Currently Bradbury’s source some 400 cheeses from 200 suppliers. Last year their cheeses won over 40 awards, even in France. The logistics are incredible. Burrata made with mozzarella and cream is a specialty of Puglia, in the heel of Italy. A shipment is sent by the producer to Milan, where other Italian cheeses like parmiggiano also arrive; other collection points are in Paris and the Netherlands. Twice a week a trailer leaves Milan for Buxton, arriving next day. There the many cheeses are unpacked, cut, sliced, shaved, grated, repackaged in the language and with the rules of the destination… and onto the next trailer out of Buxton, though only the longer-life cheeses can go round the world. “We take complexity, we deliver simplicity,” Richard said. He made it sound easy.

What about the war on plastic? They’re working on it; wax is not always the answer. Cheese needs a robust impermeable barrier, otherwise a shelf life of 140 days is reduced to 14 days, and then we’d have tons of food waste. That wouldn’t help the environment.

We started tasting the cheese – wonderful Stilton, perfect vintage cheddar, sheep’s milk manchega; low cholesterol cheese (oh joy) and vegetarian varieties (cheese is normally set with rennet, from the cow’s second stomach, but there are alternatives). Crackers or bread? “Whichever you like,” said Richard, who seemed naturally slim, “but I eat so much cheese I keep off bread and biscuits.” He told us that Sage Derby isn’t really green. “The season is shorter here in Derbyshire so by autumn the cows eat whatever they can get, and that makes the cheese bitter,” Richard recalled. “So farmers put sage in to improve the taste. But real sage goes brown – so some bright spark used a green colour instead. And that’s also why it’s traditional at Christmas: that’s when it’s ready.”

And the future? Everyone enjoys a day out, and Bradbury’s now own or have an interest in four makers, and one has a visitor centre where you can see superb artisan cheese being made, eat and purchase. All cash sales, great business. The intention is to have more. But looming ever larger is the prospect of selling cheese to China, where the potential demand is vast: millions of middle class Chinese are travelling abroad more and see western dairy products as a luxury item. Bradbury’s will be there.

Next meeting: Friday June 14th, from 7.30am at Chapel en le frith Golf Club: The Renaissance of the Co-op with Tina Mitchell, Regional Director of Co-op Food.