Select an Insider and an Experience
Contact us and we’ll take care of the details
Meet your Insider for a unique creative Experience

Raclette, Zen and the art of cheesemaking: Kappacasein Dairy

Meet founder Bill Oglethorpe

You may have seen large wheels of cheese, halved, propped unnaturally face up under a hot stone grill, slowly bubbling, browning and oozing rich oils to the surface. In one elegant motion the wheel is tilted, as the melted layer is gently scooped onto a plate of steaming potatoes. This is the famous Swiss raclette – a cheese and a process that take their name from the French word racler, to scrape.

What you may not know is the man behind one of the most renowned raclette and toastie stands in London: William Oglethorpe. William – Bill to most – was born to South African parents who migrated to Zambia, the place of his birth. His desire to study engineering in Switzerland moulded under the weight of life compromises: first, he needed to learn the language. Having found a course that would allow him to move while also accessing language classes, Bill enrolled to train in agriculture: and so the food story began, almost by accident.

Images: Richard Fairclough Photography © 

A few years later he headed to Provence, where he helped a friend set up a farm. Here, local custom and tradition dictated that they use some of the milk to produce cheese – Bill’s first encounter with the edible gold.

“I liked the idea of a smallholding. Growing up in Zambia there is a tendency to go towards self-sufficiency. I find that quite rewarding, creating something from nothing.”

Our goal in making cheese was to get to the essence of the creation

Ultimately, visa challenges in France led Bill to move to London: as part of the Commonwealth, his Zambian heritage granted him a permit to stay in the big city. When he arrived in the capital, he had his eyes set on entering the food world.

“I wanted to get involved in food. In college I was surrounded by friends who were passionate about cooking. We took turns cooking and that’s when I got really into it. When I came to London I was a good candidate at Neal’s Yard Dairy because I had some experience with cheese. Working at Neal’s Yard involved me in the processes of making cheese and interacting with customers. More than that, it felt great because it connected me to the whole country. I travelled all over the UK with them.”

Images: Richard Fairclough Photography © 

In 2001, his passion for cheese led him to open his first store in Borough Market – Kappacasein – where he began selling toasties and raclette. In doing so, Bill not only launched a venture but also provided a sustainable way of using broken cheese wheels: the wheels that could not be sold at Neal’s Yard due to cracks were grated and destined for a spectacular sourdough cheese toastie.

“For a long time the store didn’t have a name. We did some brainstorming and I remembered reading about kappa casein in a book about cheese making: it’s the main protein in milk. I guess the thinking was that our goal in making cheese was to get to the essence of the creation.”

Images: Richard Fairclough Photography © 

Getting to the essence of cheese was a labour of love.  His passion for testing and experimentation while at Neal’s Yard led him to create Ogleshield – an adaptation of Jamie Montgomery’s Shield cheese made with softer curd and a water-washed pink rind.

In 2008, Bill began his own production of cheeses in Spa Terminus – an area in Bermondsey known for its artisan food makers. Since the birth of Kappacasein, Bill has done a bit of everything: he supplies stores, sells to consumers from the shop, runs the raclette and toastie stall in Borough Market and has hosted raclette supper clubs. These days, he’s fascinated by the idea of creating a lean and efficient business that flows seamlessly from ingredient to man through to machine.

Images: Richard Fairclough Photography ©

“I want to make what I’m doing much better. Recently I’ve come down from doing ten different things to doing five. Now I’m thinking a lot about processes. I’m interested in lean systems. I’ve been looking for that one way that’s most effective.

I’ve also been looking into natural ways to preserve food. These days we have many ways to preserve foods: refrigeration, pasteurisation, vacuum packing and so forth. Many times we find ourselves using both, one on top of the other. I’m asking myself, do we have to do that?”

Cheese is fascinating in the sense that the possibilities and outcomes are vast. You ask yourself: will it work? Even now that I make cheese regularly, I find that quite fascinating.

His cheeses are made in a traditional 600-litre copper vat sourced from France. The cheese is made from raw organic cow’s milk from Common Work Organic Farm in Kent. The milk is collected daily and processed within a few hours from collection. When it reaches Spa Terminus, the milk is heated and lightly processed, moulded, pressed and ripened naturally. Bill produces his famous Bermondsey Hard Pressed (based on a gruyere recipe), a fresh cheese called Bermondsey Frier and his more recent London Raclette. He also uses the byproducts to create ricotta, butter and yoghurt. He has described cheese-making as “a constant dialogue” in which “time is an amplifier.”

Images: Richard Fairclough Photography ©

“Cheese is fascinating in the sense that the possibilities and outcomes are vast. You ask yourself: will it work? Even now that I make cheese regularly, I find that quite fascinating.”

This philosophical approach to cheese-making has found applications in his daily life as well.

“I’ve become interested in yoga, meditation and Buddhism. It is very empowering to think of the world as a construct that we can change. Just like when you make things, there can be unpredictability and uncertainty in life. It’s a leap of faith and confidence to make cheese like we do, without all the chemicals. Instead of pushing our ingredients we facilitate processes naturally. I’m exploring those same concepts in my daily life.”

Banner image and image above: Richard Fairclough Photography © food styling by April Carter

When it comes to his own favourite cheese pairing, Bill doesn’t stray too much from the classics.

“I personally really enjoy a sweet white wine with blue cheese. Dry Riesling and fondue is also great. I would recommend trying a Lambic beer with a hard cheese for a unique pairing.”

You can visit Bill at his store in Spa Terminus on Saturday mornings from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm or head to the Borough Market shop, open Monday – Saturday between 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. To learn more about local food production, join journalist Victoria Stewart on an exploration of New British Foods.