Posted 4th Nov 2014
Cheesemaker and distiller, Charles Martell, opened the door to his farm to tell us how he become such a prominent Gloucestershire producer
From a young age Charles Martell was familiar with cheese. His mother would often make soft cheese for use within the home and he was always curious about why she would never make 'real cheese', something she said at the time was too difficult. However, Charles was not deterred and, in 1972, when the Old Gloucester breed of cow was nearing extinction, he decided to take action.
Once a regular producer of milk for cheesemaking, the old Gloucester cattle numbers had dwindled and were no longer a strong contender when it came to cheese production. Looking to do his part to save this beautiful creature, Charles began using the Old Gloucester cow for what it did best and began production of Double Gloucester cheese. Six years later he revived the production of Single Gloucester and in 1990 invented the well known Stinking Bishop, in honour of the Cistercian monks of Dymock from his village.
Producing cheese all year round and to begin with, on a very small scale on his farm, Hunts Court, meant that Charles was able to recreate seven different varieties of cheese that were historically made in Gloucestershire.
Upon learning that his farm had in fact been used for distilling up until 1810, Charles took on his next venture, gin. Stumbled upon by a neighbour when looking through old farm deeds, they found that the 'distilling house' was originally built in 1650 and is the oldest original stillhouse that is still working in Britain. Inspired, Charles added a new wood-fired copper pot still and in 2010 the age-old tradition of fruit distilling was re-established, making way for Charles Martell Spirits.
Working tirelessly to produce five different spirits, each one with its fruit handpicked in season, milled, fermented, distilled and bottled on the premises. The fermentation of the fruit is carefully carried out using the copper pot still which is heated by a wood fire. A complex, but necessary process, Charles says: 'From branch through to bottle, it is a very intricate process and we oversee every stage. The spirit that is created is exceptionally pure and refined.'
The alluring taste of Vintage Pear Spirit, Vintage Apple Spirit, Oaked Plum Spirit, Jack High Cider Spirit and soon to be released Naked Lady Perry Spirit, has seen Charles Martell evolve from a skilled cheesemaker to a confident and determined distiller as well. With 40 years under his belt, Hunts Court Farm are forever multi-tasking, from livestock farmers and breeding poultry to tending their own orchards, hopeful that the cheese and spirit production will flourish as it has for the last four decades.
So, why not try it yourself in these specially selected Charles Martell cocktail recipes?
Vintage Pear Sour
50ml Charles Martell Vintage Pear Spirit
15ml egg white
25ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
1 dash orange bitters
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with cubed ice and shake very hard. Double strain the mixture over fresh cubed ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a slice of fresh pear.
Vintage Apple Perfect Serve
50ml Charles Martell Vintage Apple Spirit
4 slice apple fan
1 dash orange bitters
Fill a rocks glass with cubed ice and pour over Charles Martell Vintage Apple spirit. Add a dash of orange bitters and stir gently, top with ice if needed and garnish with an apple fan.
With Christmas fast approaching, Charles Martell 50ml spirits are ideal stocking fillers, or their larger bottles are perfect for a special Christmas Day tipple. They are available to buy online at www.charlesmartell.com plus from all other good independent drinks outlets.
Vintage Pear Spirit (Owler) ABV 40%
The Vintage Pear Spirit is made from the fruit of rare pear trees – which once appeared to be dying out. With names such as Hedgehog, Cowslip and Painted Lady, these unique and exquisite varieties ensure a refined drink with a distinct pear flavour. A touch of fruity floral elegance.
Suggested retail price: 700ml - £49.00/ 500ml - £39.00/ 50ml - £5.50
Vintage Apple Spirit ABV 40%
A similar product to the Vintage Pear Spirit – made from milled Gloucestershire apples that are grown on the farm. The end result is a spirit with a punchy tang and apple aroma.
Suggested retail price: 700ml - £45.00/ 500ml - £35.00/ 50ml - £5.50
Jack High Cider Spirit ABV 40%
A modern spirit distilled from local cider – it is diluted with spring water from the farm and aged in oak barrels to provide a warmer, mellower drink almost like a delicate malt whisky. In January 2014, Charles Martell introduced Jack High Junior, a 5cl miniature bottle. Jack High Spirit comes in three light-hearted label designs; 'Cider Spirit with mud on its boots', 'Cider spirit that's as strong as an ox' and 'Cider Spirit that was born in a barn'.
Suggested retail price: 500ml - £30.00/ 50ml bottle - £5.00
Or for that extra special gift, Charles Martell can personalise the label on the 700ml and 500ml Vintage fruit spirit bottles if you wish to buy for a gift or to mark a special occasion. Personalisation can be added for an additional £5.
Charles Martell has just published his own book; 'Pears of Gloucestershire and Perry Pears of the Three Counties', available to buy online from www.charlesmartell.com
By Lauren Morton
Images courtesy of Charles Martell