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Alex James: The Big Interview

Simon Binns talks monks, breast milk and asexual cheese with the Blur bassist

Written by . Published on October 19th 2011.


Alex James: The Big Interview

ALEX James invents cheese. This is what he says.

But before we get into that, let me tell you about the most breathtakingly audacious example of shoplifting I have ever seen.

As I stood waiting for the Blur bass player turned cheese churner, at the front doors of the spaceship-sized Asda in East Manchester, I watched as a 20-something girl cycled up to the front doors of the store, got off her bike, walked in, picked up a massive tin of Roses chocolates that were NEXT TO THE SECURITY DESK (unmanned), turned around, walked out, got on her bike and took off across the car park, in an almost impressively businesslike way.

Luckily for James, the cheese aisle area is at the back of the store, far from the sticky fingers of any other help-yourself merchants.

“I’ve tried breast milk, but I have to draw a line at baby sick. If I could get my hands on large quantities of baby sick, it could be an interesting project."

His new invention has upset just about everyone who writes about food. He’s the darling of the Observer Food Monthly crowd. So how could his new range – which includes a pouring cheese that you melt in a microwavable bag and bread shaped ‘blankets’ that come in tomato sauce flavour – be so…crude?

And to make matters worse, he’s selling it in Asda, instead of Waitrose or Booths. Mind you, so would anyone for £2m, although his exclusivity ends after six months and at least one other major supermarket was interested in stocking his wares.

SB: “The food writer at The Telegraph called it an abomination,” he says, loading his 6ft-something frame into a shopping trolley. “It made the New York fucking Times. The last time I was in there was when I was sending music to Mars.

“I didn’t think you could have controversial cheese but it was very deliberate. I knew it would upset them and generate a bit of publicity.”

SB: Why is there so much food snobbery? Are we to blame? The food and drink writers?

AJ:“It’s weird. I could have called my tomato sauce cheese elixir de tomate and they might not have been so bothered. But there’s posh cheese and everyday cheese. I make an award winning goat’s cheese but it’s not what my kids want to eat. They start crying.

SB: Do women fancy men who make cheese or men in rock bands more? It was a 50/50 split in the office. Do you have cheese groupies?

“Really? No way…although it’s nothing new. Monks make music and cheese. Have been for hundreds of years.”

SB:  Monks don’t tend to have groupies though.

AJ: “They haven’t got the hair. I think chefs are the new rock stars. Women go crazy for them. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Yotam Ottolenghi. We did a festival on our farm and the women were hyperventilating. They’re stood there making salad.

“I think it’s because we’re a nation that’s suddenly discovered its taste buds. We were the culinary laughing stock of Europe since the war. We ran out of food. Everyone had rationing.”

SB: Was food a big part of your rock star life? Blur liked a drink, it’s fair to say.

AJ: “Damon got knickers chucked at him, I got cheese thrown at me. There was something in Smash Hits that said ‘Alex likes cheese.’ So that was it. It was a real pain in Japan though because they sell it in fucking tins. I really hurts.

SB: Where do you stand on cottage cheese?

AJ: “I think it’s under-rated actually. It’s sort of proto-cheese. People often ask me if I’ve tried to make cheese with breast milk. Oxford University tried it but you can’t get the milk to split. The only thing that will curdle human milk is in baby’s stomachs. Baby sick, essentially. That's basically cottage cheese.

Have you tried it?

AJ:“I’ve tried breast milk, but I have to draw a line at baby sick. If I could get my hands on large quantities of baby sick, it could be an interesting project.

 

Off his trolleyOff his trolley

SB: Cheese strings. Discuss?

AJ:“I don’t think they’re very tasty but they’re good fun. A lot of the big selling cheeses are really good but buying cheese has become as boring as buying petrol. Everyone just buys the cheapest. None of the brands really mean anything.

“I hit a point in my life where I’d be walking down the street and people wouldn’t stop me to ask about Blur, they’d ask about cheese. Cheese needed a face. I am that face. I love it.

SB:  Are you becoming a cheese bore?

“I’m happy to talk to you about anything you want.”

SB: Erm, most of my questions are about cheese actually…

AJ:“I do think people connect with it viscerally in a way they connect with music and football. People get passionate about it. It was good at the university just now, watching the students try it. Their faces lit up at the pouring cheese.

SB:  Does cheese always need something with it? Is beer or wine best?

AJ:“I would say beer and cheese is really good. You can have real car crashes with wine and cheese. You need to know what you’re doing. Who can bothered to learn everything about cheese and everything about wine? Any beer is improved by any cheese.”

SB:  I’ve got some flavour suggestions for you. Confidential’s beauty editor Lynda Moyo enjoys a Kraft cheese slice on a chocolate digestive.

AJ:“Hmm. Blue cheese and chocolate is very good together. I’ll tell you what is good on a chocolate digestive is marmalade. Much better than a Jaffa Cake.”

SB:  I used to work with a lad who ate chocolate digestive and banana sandwiches.

AJ:“Ooh, that sounds quite good. I like that one. Sweet and sour is good. Mature cheddar and syrup. Honey is good for a creamy blue. Not a crumbly one.”

SB:  What have you spent more on in your life; sex, drugs and rock and roll, or cheese-making equipment?

AJ:“(Immediately) Cheese-making equipment. By a mile (laughs). It’s more expensive to set yourself set up as a cheesemaker than it is to build a recording studio these days. We have to make a case a week for Asda. Then I make smaller batches of posher stuff at the farm.

“People have funny ideas of what a cheesemaker is. They think I’m stood there stirring a vat of blancmange all day. But the best bit is coming up with recipes and I can do that in the kitchen.

“So much cheese is mass-produced, they’ve found ways of doing it in a way that still means it’s very, very good. People mistrust technology because it’s so often used to make food taste more shit.”

SB: Is there a man cheese and a girl cheese. The editor thinks cheese with fruit in it is girl cheese.

AJ:“A manchego? There should be a womanchego too. I produce asexual cheese. It knows no boundaries of sex or race.”

SB:  Mandatory Blur question alert. What’s going on with the band?

AJ:“I saw the boys a couple of weeks ago and we’re getting together at the end of the month…

SB: New album?

AJ:“Is there such a thing as an album any more? I don’t know. But it would be great to record new stuff, although I don’t know when that might happen. I’ve got nine cheeses to look after. And five kids.”

------

And before James had time to get himself out of the trolley, an 11-year-old girl marched up to us. “Are you famous?” she asked. “A bit,” replied James. “I invent cheese and I’m in a band a bit as well.”

“No you aren’t. You wouldn’t be sat in a trolley if you were famous, would you? You’d be practising.”

“That’s a good point.”

“And anyway, I haven’t seen you on X Factor, so you can’t be that famous.”

We both looked at each other, laughed, then paused for a moment as she walked straight past his cheese and grabbed two tubes of Primula.

“That’s what I’m up against,” says James. “Fucking Primula.”

At least I took some of his cheese. And I even paid for it. I just hope he doesn’t have to put them near the front doors.

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Simon Binns shared this on Facebook on October 20th 2011.
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