The story of Cobblers Nibble: How Northamptonshire's first cheese went from a happy accident to a household favourite

The story of how Northamptonshire's first cheese went from an accident on a kitchen stove to one of the county's best loved nibbles...

Thursday, 26th December 2019, 6:00 am
From the shop in Long Buckby, Gary and Rachael are selling dozens of regional cheeses - as well as a whole larder of Northamptonshire produce.
From the shop in Long Buckby, Gary and Rachael are selling dozens of regional cheeses - as well as a whole larder of Northamptonshire produce.

Cheese will be eaten by the kilo this festive season. For a sleepy Christmas afternoon it's practically a staple next to mince pies and pudding, and any cheese maker will tell you how sales shoot up in December.

It means the holidays are a bustling time for Gary and Rachael at Hamm Tun Fines Foods - the masterminds behind Northamptonshire's first and best-loved cheese, Cobblers Nibble.

"Sales go through the roof," says Gary Bradshaw, as he slices a sizeable wedge of Red Leicester on the shop counter. "25 per cent of your sales for the year will come in just a few weeks."

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Cobblers Nibble has gone from a "happy accident" on Gary's stove to an award-winning Northamptonshire favourite.

It's even more important because 2019 was the year Gary and Rachael took the plunge and opened the Hamm Tun Fines Deli.

But it's clear the couple have made a good home for their award-winning cheese. In the last weekend before Christmas, the little shop in Long Buckby's high street is bustling with customers making a last-chance run to stock the larder.

And the biggest seller on the list is the famous cheese that launched made the company a Northamptonshire favourite - the county's very-own Cobblers Nibble.

"Cobblers Nibble took a long time to come along," says Gary. "Really, it was sort of an accident.

Rachael and Gary Bradshaw at the Hamm Tun Fine Deli in Long Buckby - the home of Northamptonshire's Cobblers Nibble.

"I used to make cheese on the hob as a hobby. It was something to do while I was off work. With a bain marie you can make your own mozzarella and ricotta at home in a few hours.

"There's actually a pretty big homemade cheese-making scene people don't know about. I think a lot of people think there's something dangerous about it."

Admittedly, Gary says not all of his homemade creations were a hit with friends and family.

That all changed in 2013 when a cheddar he was trying to make came out just a bit different.

Cheese sales go through the roof at Christmas - which has made the festive season a busy time for Gary and Rachael.

Gary said: "It just sort of came out the way it did.

"It was amazing. It was the best cheese I had made up to that point anyway. It was just a bit of a happy accident.

"In cheese-making, you write down what you do as you go, so I knew how to make the same one again.

"I took some of it down to Steve at St Giles Cheese and he just said 'when can I buy some?'

Cobblers Nibble, Northamptonshire Blue, Little Berties - Hamm Tun Fine is at the forefront of the county's cheesemaking scene.

"I had a winner on my hands."

It didn't have a name yet - in fact, it would be named in a Facebook competition by one of Gary's friends a few weeks later - but this was the first batch of Cobbler's Nibble, and Northamptonshire's-first named cheese.

And then, Gary got made redundant.

"And I just thought, 'I'm not doing this anymore'," Gary said. "I went on a cheese-making course with my redundancy pay and when I came back I signed a lease on a building in the same week. And that was that."

This was the launch of Gary and his wife Rachael's new business, Hamm Tun Fine. He made the switch from his stove top to a 200-litre vat and stringent health-and-safety specs in line with food standards. But now, he was in a position to made Cobblers Nibble a household name.

From that first two-and-a-half kilogram batch of Nibble, Gary is now brewing up more than five tonnes of it a year.

Since then, Hamm Tun Fine has also debuted 'Northamptonshire Blue' and 'Little Bertie' - a seriously strong cheese that won Local Artisan Product of the Year at the 2019 Carlsberg Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.

Now, the deli in Long Buckby is Gary and Rachael's newest venture, and has been running in Long Buckby for four months.

Rachael said: "I think for about two or three years we've both been talking about how great it would be to have a deli or a cafe. And the building became available in the summer so that was that.

"It's really come into its own, and it's also a chance to sell some great local produce from across Northamptonshire."

There's no doubt Cobblers Nibble will be a household favourite this Christmas, and from here only more and more people will get the taste for it. Gary and Rachael have put Northamptonshire on the map in the cheesemaking world - what will their next creation be?