Sandy grew up on her mum and dad’s dairy farm in Shurlock Row near Twyford where he milked Jersey and Guernsey cows. During her early years she came to love horses and enjoyed competing with them. The horses had to share her affections during her teens as she became an avid follower of northern soul music. This involved many a late night trip to Wigan casino!
In 1983 she met Andy and a year later they married. After living together in Woodley for 4 years they moved with their 1 year old daughter Nia to Three Mile Cross. The house had a small paddock at the back which allowed Sandy to rekindle her passion for animals. First came the chickens, followed by pigmy goats, a pony and finally two calves. In amongst this their son Liam was born.
Having rapidly outgrown the small paddock, Sandy and Andy decided to take a plunge, sold the house and moved their family onto a smallholding with 30 acres near Hook. The collection of animals then flourished with the addition of dairy goats, rare breed cattle, sheep, horses and a pet pig. As well as running a children’s mobile farm that they both took around local schools, Sandy used to help her cousin Anne who makes cheese, with turning her cheeses in the maturing rooms.
Encouraged by this, Sandy and Andy started thinking about taking the cheese making to the next step and turning it into a business. The first problem was to think of a name – lots were banded around but they finally settled on “Two Hoots Cheese”, after their recent experiences with some rescued owls. One day her cousin suggested that Sandy make soft cheese from her own goat’s milk which she did. She made the first batch in a bucket and hung it overnight in the shower in a muslin bag to drain. The following day salt, garlic and chives were added to complete the cheese which was then enjoyed by all the family.
Having decided to concentrate on the cheese making business they reluctantly sold their animals and smallholding and moved to a smaller house with outbuildings in Barkham. It then took around a year to convert the outbuildings into a cheese dairy during which time Sandy spent many hours researching various equipment that would be needed for the business.
A small vat was initially purchased to allow Sandy to make the soft cheese in larger quantities. These were then potted and sold at local farmers markets .
After going to a cheese festival in the Cotswolds, Sandy came across an old book of cheese recipes in a small bookshop. This spurred her into making a white rind brie type cheese. This cheese, called Barkham Brie went on to win awards at the World and British Cheese Awards.
Not satisfied with this success Sandy had always wanted to make a blue cheese from channel Island milk (like her dad used to milk) so after months of trials and tests Barkham Blue was born. This proved to be extremely popular at the farmers markets and within the first 6 months of making it Barkham Blue won Best New Cheese at the 2003 World Cheese Awards followed by a gold at the British Cheese Awards in the same year.
Since then Barkham Blue has consistently won awards including winning Best Blue Cheese , Best English Cheese and Supreme Champion at the 2008 British Cheese Awards and 3 Star Gold at the 2010,2011 and 2012 Great Taste Awards and Super Gold plus Best British Cheese at the 2012 World Cheese Awards.
A difficult act to follow you may say, however not wanting to rest on their laurels Sandy and Andy have now developed a new cheese called “Rosethorn Blue” a lovely soft textured creamy blue cheese made with Friesian cow’s milk. It picked up its first award, a silver at the 2012 World Cheese Awards and has just won a 2 star gold at the 2013 Great Taste Awards.
The business expanded in 2011 and with help from a Rural Development Grant we installed our own pasteuriser, allowing us to source quality local milk. We have now increased our production to keep up with demand, but it’s still very much a family affair with Andy and Sandy’s daughter Nia now working in the business full time, son Liam and sister Lesley helping out part time. Even her dad Norman, now retired and who was her original inspiration comes in to lend a hand from time to time.