Breaking free from only rolling cheeses
Ladies and Gentlemen I declare the opening of the 197 edition of Gloucester Cheese rolling competition and afterwards I invite you to the European cheese fair. The duchess of Windsor has kindly agreed to open the proceedings. Let the competition begin. The duchess stepped forward and cut the ribbon holding back the competitor before they rushed down the hill. The cheeses were hurdled down the hill chased by their owners. The crowd roared, the chase had begun. There were many falls and many bruises.
It was a glorious spring day with the sun being chased by billowing white clouds. There was a very large crowd present. Their immediate attention was on the cheese rolling contest which consisted of rolling a double Gloucester cheese, weighing three kilos down a very steep incline called Coopers hill. The winner was the person who could catch his cheese before it reached the bottom some 182 meters below. A task nearly impossible as the cheeses, protected by a round wooden frame, descended the hill at over a 100 kilometres an hour. What the crowd loved was the 50 competitors falling and rolling down the slope after their cheeses. The shouts and screams could be heard for miles around. Nobody seems to know the exact origins of the yearly festival, some say it goes back over 600 years, but it was first recorded in writing in 1826 hence the reference by the announcement of the197the edition. The reason for this bizarre event is also steeped in mystery, some say it’s to do with a ritual to fertility, others claiming land rights around Coopers Hill. Whatever the reason it is greatly enjoyed ….a fun day’s outing for all. The cheese festival combined with cheese rolling has, over the last few years, become a great success attracting visitors from all over the country starting with old tradition and then allowing the crowd to enjoy the remarkable product called cheese.
Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth. Pierre Androuet.
How did this well admired old tradition be considered a suitable place to combine it with the creation of a European cheese festival? For many years the crowd left with mouths dry from shouting and screaming. Now they left with their taste buds alive with my different flavors. Also once the cheese rolling started it was very soon over. In recent years as the crowds grew there had been talk of finding another activity so that the crowds could enjoy a fuller day. A great day out in the country.
The story about how this all took place goes back a few years. The most authentic way to tell the story is by relating word for word an interview with the man that had the original ideal to bring a popular tradition into the twenty first century.
Good morning Mr. Ffinch I understand you had the initial idea to combine the Cheese Rolling event with a European cheese festival.
Mr Ffinch: Yes that is true, but a project like this needs the support, dedication and work of the European Commission to make it happen. I was fortunate to find the right man at the European level..
Interviewer: I am sure our viewers would be interested to hear about your background and how you came up with the idea.
Mr Ffinch: “I am English, married to a beautiful French girl. I am retired and living in Paris, France. I was educated in the English public school system. I am afraid to say I was a mediocre student. As a teenager I did go on two occasions to see the rolling of cheeses, at the time it made quite an impression on me.
At the age of eighteen me and my brother borrowed my mother's car and drove to Paris. The moment I walked through the city of light I fell in love with its beauty, its monuments, its culture and its food. These sentiments have remained with me all these years. I have a deep love for France.
I qualified as a Chartered Accountant working in the city, got bored and decided to leave for America seeking work experience and hopefully adventure. I stayed about three years and in that time quenched my thirst for the great American way of life. I felt I was more European. I returned to England to discover it seemed so tiny and constrained in comparison to the country I had just left. During my stay in the USA I had had the time to drive across the country and live on the West coast for three months; so diversity and space had became important to me. I left for Paris, found a management consulting job which allowed me to explore Europe. In this period I got married and within three years we had three boys. I soon found having children alters one ‘s perspective on life.
Through the management consulting job I met Edmond de Rothschild who offered me a position in his investment holding company. I stayed with him eight years before I decided to start my own investment consulting business. This led to being offered a job as a partner with a well known family investment office in New York. I gathered up the family, excited to leave, and we spent the next eight years in the big apple. It was at this time the internet was in its early years of dominating the economic and financial world.
Eight years later we return to France. I restarted my old consulting company. I also felt that to become more integrated in French business it would interesting to create an internet company as the interest in this technology was starting to fascinate the French. The question was what French products could I sell over internet that were international recognised? When you think about this there are quite a few: wine, perfume, clothes, cheese to name a few. I pick cheese a product I enjoyed eating without any knowledge of the product and its market. After a couple of months of serious study and talking to people I thought trying to sell cheese over internet was a feasible idea but with many hurdles to cross. It certainly was one of France’s products that had an international reputation for its flavor, diversity and historic interest.”
Interviewer: So what happened next?
Mr.Ffinch: “I created a company called Fromages.com with the son of a very good French friend of mine. He was a young, dynamic man with some experience of managing companies. His father, the son and l put up a modest amount of capital to keep, by our calculations, the company afloat for the period until we thought it would break-even. We also invited three investors to be small shareholders as they would bring credibility to the project. The first two months were disturbingly calm from a sales point of view. Then one morning the sales exploded. The reason was an article in the New York Times had been written the day before by their gourmet editor extolling Fromages.com. We were in business. I should write a book about the adventures, the pleasure, and the people we meet over the twenty-two years we owned this company. We finally sold it to a large French dairy group.
During this period I became well acquainted with the French and to a lesser extent the European cheese market. The French thought the English and German markets for their cheese were difficult to penetrate.
One day while attending a conference on the European cheese market at question time I posed the question why doesn’t Europe sponsor a yearly European cheese festival in its major countries.? To ensure a healthy attendance the festival could be attached to a well established cheese, agricultural, or food festival in that country. This led to my name being noted, also that I was a founder of Fromages.com. My question apparently fostered a great interest. I was invited to Brussels to expand on my idea. At that time I suggested the English cheese rolling festival was an ideal venture to attach a European cheese festival. I remembered all those years ago laughing and shouting my head off. A few years later the Europeans chose cheese rolling in England as their test project for the idea. It was a success. The rest is history.
Interviewer: Thank Mr, Ffinch, that has been a most interesting conversation. Do you have something to add?
Ffinch: I think the end of this interview merits a quotation from Colette.
If I had a son that was about to marry, I would say to him: Beware of a young woman that does not like wine, truffles. cheese and music.
Thank you all for listening.