Village Maid Cheese was started by Anne Wigmore in 1986 after she had been working for the National Institute for Research in Dairying in Shinfield for 10 years, initially in the microbiological department, and then learning her craft of cheese-making in their research dairy. Together with her husband Andy and staff the company now produce three award-winning cheeses. Anne Wigmore began making cheese at the National Institute for Research in Dairying (NIRD) in 1984, having worked as a microbiologist at the establishment. In the experimental dairy Anne produced different types of cheese for projects within the institute and organised tasting panels. She also visited the then few artisan cheese-makers in the country for consultations and this inspired a passion for artisan cheese.After leaving the institute to travel abroad with her husband Andy, sailing the high seas with two friends who were fulfilling a lifelong ambition of sailing their self-made yacht back to Australia, their return after six months provided Anne with the opportunity of going it alone. Anne formed her own company under the government Enterprise Allowance scheme where she was paid £40 per week and offered short training courses in administration to become a successful entrepreneur. Thus the seeds of Village Maid Cheese were sown and the company was born from humble beginnings in a garden outbuilding in Spencers Wood near Reading in 1986.
Not having a farm meant milk supply was to prove difficult, but undeterred, Anne was keen to put into practice what she had discovered whilst sailing, including the wonderful cheeses of Sardinia made from ewe’s milk, particularly Pecorino Sardo.
Spenwood cheese is the culmination of many years of trials and even today, 23 years later, changes are continually made in order to maintain the quality and flavour remembered from Sardinia.
In 1987 the Duke of Wellington approached Anne to make a cheese for the estate to be matured in the cellars of Stratfield Saye. Using the milk from his pedigree herd of Guernsey cows, Anne developed a Cheddar-type cheese, Wellington, which was produced and highly acclaimed, until the Duke retired and production was transferred at Village Maid to making another Guernsey milk cheese, Golden Saye.
During this time Anne was working on developing semi-soft washed curd cheeses, which have a shorter maturation time.
With the support of James Aldridge as an affineur and retailer, Village Maid produced Rook’s Nest, a smoked ewe’s milk cheese, and Golden Saye, a washed rind cheese. These cheeses were matured by James using his experience as an affineur but sadly are no longer made.
After the Times diarist recorded the sad demise of Golden Saye, Anne was quick to resolve its replacement in Waterloo, now made from the milk of a single Guernsey herd near Henley, with its own following of admirers.
Around the same time Neal’s Yard Dairy, in Covent Garden, were looking for a semi-soft ewe’s milk cheese and encouraged Anne to try and develop one alongside the Spenwood.
Again, after several years in development, Wigmore, (named by default at Neal’s Yard) was born and has now established itself as a unique ewe’s milk cheese, achieving many awards.
Today, Village Maid Cheese is recognised as producing three award-winning cheeses, which have established themselves as now ranking among the very best in British artisan cheeses.