Feltham’s Farm: a renegade approach to cheese branding
Despite only setting up in 2019, Somerset-based Feltham’s Farm and its cheese have grabbed the attention of retailers and consumers
There’s no mistaking Renegade Monk, and not just because of its pungent aroma. Made by Feltham’s Farm in Somerset, the soft, organic cheese has found notoriety thanks to its remarkably powerful rind, which cheesemongers politely describe as being “bold”, “assertive” and “not one for the faint-hearted”.
But it also stands out thanks to bright, unconventional steampunk branding, which helps the product almost pogo off the shelf. While many British cheese labels depict cows, hedges and hills, Renegade Monk features a sinister man of the cloth in dark goggles.
Owners Marcus Fergusson and Penny Nagle commissioned cutting-edge graphic designer and dance music label boss Jem Panufnik to come up with the funky design, taking inspiration from old Camembert labels and record sleeve art.
“We both have media backgrounds and know that brand and marketing is incredibly important,” Fergusson tells FFD. “A lot of cheeses in Britain are named after the village where they are made. It’s rural, pastoral and bucolic, but we wanted branding that stood out.”
The couple gave up London careers in music, cinema and corporate communications six years ago to lead the good life with their three young children on a 22-acre smallholding near Templecombe. A one-day course at River Cottage was the catalyst for setting up the cheese business with milk sourced from a nearby organic farm to make Renegade Monk, plus a slightly less pungent sister cheese called Rebel Nun.
Production had only just started at a new £350k dairy, built on the smallholding in 2019, when COVID struck. After a tricky few months, the business has managed to tick over thanks to guaranteed orders from The Fine Cheese Co, plus a listing with Abel & Cole and an increase in direct sales. It also received a boost when Renegade Monk was named Supreme Champion at the inaugural Virtual Cheese Awards in 2020. Remarkably, Feltham’s repeated the success with its new queso fresco-style cheese, La Fresca Margarita (complete with eye-catching daisy branding), at the same awards this year.
Another positive outcome, says Fergusson, has been a structural shift in the market with a big jump in retailers buying direct via courier or collecting from the farm. “They’re cutting out the middle man and can get to know us, and take that story back to their own customers,” he says.
With the economy picking up again, wholesalers who stopped ordering during lockdown may find the old ways of doing business are no longer fit for purpose, he adds.
“I think that model is slightly broken. Some wholesalers might as well be selling flat-pack furniture. They need to think about their business moving forward because they’re going to find a lot of their customers are now going direct.”
There’s plenty of change on the horizon at Feltham’s too, with new cheeses and an apprentice scheme in the pipeline. Fergusson has been made chairman of the Global Cheese Awards in Frome and has gone full circle by taking over the River Cottage cheesemaking course.
Cheese sales are also taking off again after the ups and downs of the past year with Feltham’s packaging still turning heads, says Fergusson. “I had to restock a customer recently who had started the day with 10 Monks and 10 Nuns, but had sold out. A lot had been bought by holidaymakers, who hadn’t seen our cheeses before. They saw the branding and kept asking: ‘What is that?’”