Sussex dairy farmers and cheese makers Bookham Harrison Farms have won best British cheddar at the quality food awards 2017, beating the top Somerset cheddars.

Ironically, though, Rob Bookham and Tim Harrison’s Sussex Charmer cheese is actually made in Somerset, as Mr Bookham – who is chief cheese maker – explained. Jim Harrison, founder of the Rudgwick herd which produces the milk – who was Tim’s uncle – knew John Alvis, one of the Alvis family who make cheddar at Lye Cross Farm in Somerset.

At one time, Sussex Charmer was made at Twineham Grange in West Sussex. “But when the Italian family who owned the grange decided to sell it for housing, we were suddenly left without a creamery,” Mr Bookham remembered.

Jim Harrison’s friendship with Jon Alvis proved fruitful, and today milk from Harrison and Sons’ Rudgwick herd is taken down to Alvis Bros to be turned into Charmer. “I think even if we had built a creamery on the home farm then, we would be needing another one now – so it was a good decision,” Mr Bookham said. He started making Sussex Charmer in 2007, went to the market in 2008 and moved production to Alvis Bros in 2012.

Sussex Charmer’s recipe is based on cheddar and Parmesan cheese, and comes from Mr Bookham’s knowledge of the cheese making process. The name Charmer comes from mixing the names cheddar and Parmesan. There are 1,200 cows in three herds at Rudgwick, and about 10% of milk goes into cheese production.

About 100 tonnes of cheese are made each year, but production is increasing by about 20% a year. “The cheese is ready at 14 months old, so expansion is a long term investment,” Mr Bookham said. The cheese is sold in 260 Sainsbury’s stores, 39 Southern Co Op stores, Booths – known as the Waitrose of the North – and farm shops and delicatessens. “We have just got into Morrisons local stores and we are talking to the national CoOp – so this has been an exciting chapter,” Mr Bookham said.

The cheese can be found in hotels and restaurants and is available via 34 wholesalers. There is a coffee shop on the farm called The Milk Churn which sells Sussex Charmer cheese on toast and is a shop front for the business. Last year, the cafe was listed in The Guardian as one of the top 10 places to eat in the countryside.

The cheese on toast is also available from two trailers which appear at Goodwood Revival, Royal Ascot, RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, RHS Chelsea Flower Show and The South of England Show.

Sussex Charmer’s first ever award was back in 2008 when they won best new dairy product at the Nantwich international cheese awards, before going on to win gold there six more times. Bookham Harrison Farms Ltd is a grand finalist in the Sussex food and drink awards 2018.