One of life’s simple pleasures, cheese on toast has melted the hearts of our nation ever since some clever soul first placed cheese laden bread under a heat source.
Indeed, such was the success of Bookham Harrison's Sussex Charmer version of the British staple at events across the country, that it inspired the family-run farm in Rudgwick to open a countryside coffee shop with the dish at its heart in 2014.
“The Milk Churn has just got more and more popular since we first opened its doors five years ago – we get people visiting from as far away as Bath and Bristol with an urge for great cheese on toast,” says Bookham Harrison’s Rob Bookham, who studied agriculture at Plumpton College and developed his interest in cheese in the mid 90s.
While you can enjoy a quality coffee, a bacon roll or a Ploughman’s there, the main focus of The Milk Churn continues to be on showcasing its award-winning Sussex Charmer, a mature farmhouse cheddar with the zing of Parmesan.
The cheese is produced using milk from their three herds of around 1,200 dairy cows, which live freely in the surrounding fields. It was first produced in small batches in 2007 but now, just over a decade later, they are up to more than 100 tonnes a year.
Served up in various molten combinations, from the classic through to added dry cured bacon, this legendary loveliness tops delicious bread from Jengers Craft Bakery, which is found just down the road near Billingshurst.
“The surprise ingredient, I suppose, is our own South Downs butter – the salted version of which claimed a prestigious three stars (the top award) at last year’s Great Taste Awards,” says Rob.
“We make it the old fashioned way, which is a slower process and more time intensive but, in our opinion (and the awards seem to justify it), makes for a much fuller flavoured butter.
“While the award helped the butter to catch the eye of a number of top chefs, including those at Sussex kitchens such as Gravetye Manor and South Lodge, it already had a proven track record in combination with Sussex Charmer on toast. The dish wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Word about Bookham Harrison has travelled far and wide and, with their mobile trailers appearing at the likes of Ascot, Goodwood, the Oval cricket ground and their cheese available at many Waitrose stores and other discerning outlets, it’s no surprise that cheese lovers are seeking a ‘pilgrimage’ to their spiritual home in Sussex.
A foodie adventure
The Milk Churn is found just off The Downs Link footpath and bridleway, which links the North Downs Way in Surrey with the South Downs Way near Steyning via a disused railway line, and so the coffee shop is a welcome break for cyclists enjoying the area’s beautiful countryside.
“It can mean things get very busy but to help accommodate the extra traffic, we’ve just introduced The Quick Churn Around – an express queue, of sorts, for people who are looking to pop in, grab a coffee and a snack, and then hit the trails again,” says Rob.
“It means that our regular customers can relax and don’t get caught behind groups of cyclists, but that cyclists can also still enjoy our hospitality and our cheese straws. Hopefully it’s a win-win for everyone who visits us.”
Finally, while The Milk Churn is a must for cheese lovers, there is also an added bonus for people who enjoy discovering new places for a cup of tea this month.
In the lead up to National Cream Tea Day, on Friday June 28, they will be adding cream teas to the menu complete with their homemade scones, South Downs butter and local jam.
Sounds delicious to us; just make sure to leave room for some of their epic cheese on toast, too...