The great cheeses of the world are made by passionate artisans who have learned the craft of transforming milk and cream into one of the most sought-after delicacies. Marking an important component to their recently launched Height Cuisine program, British Airways has made a clear commitment to offering a carefully selected assortment of cheese on their flights. The British Airways chefs that create Height Cuisine in-flight menus work with Tom Badcock of the Cheese Cellar, who directs the cheese program for British Airways. Tom provides access to some of the best cheese available—from local, UK-made products to international imports.
Badcock grew up on a farm in Warwickshire, England where, he says, "My mother taught me to milk goats and to make cheese." Later Badcock earned a degree in food technology and dairy technology from Seale Hayne agricultural college in Dartmoor, and his technical expertise is matched only by his deep-seated passion for the craft."I get quite keen on trying to support cheese makers, to keep this very small and fragile industry going,” he says. “Often you find cheese-makers just with one or two people making the cheese, and they need all our support. I make sure that people like British Airways are aware of their existence. They are dealing with something utterly unique. It almost takes food into an art form. I deal with something very precious, very rare, and rather wonderful."
British Airways has been working with Cheese Cellar for more than 20 years. When it comes to the airline's dedication to cheese as an important part of their culinary program, Badcock suggests, "I think they have caught this provenance bug, just like I have. It endears you to the product. You see the people behind the food. We try to put in artisan cheeses that have got the highest provenance."
Among the current cheese offering on British Airways flights is Barber's 1833 Vintage Reserve, a cheese with a rich history from the UK. "Giles Barber's work is making cheddar and he is the guardian of British cheddar bacteria,” says Badcock, enthusiastically describing the Barber legacy. “That might sound a bit odd, but he has the starter culture of the definitive English cheddar. How does a cheese-maker tell the world that his bacteria is best? Taste the cheese. Barber's 1833 is a fantastic two-year-old vintage cheddar."
The altitude and special environment on an airplane affects your ability to taste the cheese, and it affects the cheese itself. All of these factors must be taken into account when curating the selection. "When you are up in the air, you can't really serve mild cheeses because the flavor disappears,” explains Badcock. “Your hand is kind of forced to select stronger cheese." At the same time, strongly scented cheeses aren't always a welcome addition in closed quarters, so careful consideration must be made to strike the right balance.
Serving cheese in-flight presents certain challenges, and Badcock supervises the proper packing and portioning of cheese. "We have the dubious pleasure of cutting cheeses that were never designed to be portioned into little 25-gram servings," he says. Cheeses are fed into ultrasonic cutters to cut servings with minimal waste, and his team needs to prepare them in perfect condition often at very short notice. Cheeses being prepared for flight are stored under a gas that stops fungus from growing. "In another world they might have frozen the product, Badcock adds. "In my world the gas is used to keep the cheese fresh and beautiful, just as the day that it left the dairy to get to British Airways."
To learn more about British Airway's Height Cuisine program visit their Facebook page