Patrick (Pat) Rance
Patrick Lowry Cole Holwell Rance was born in 1917 at Southend-on-Sea. His father, a vicar, held a Mass for local milkmen each day at 5am. After serving in World War II, he married the writer, Janet Maxtone Graham, daughter of Jan Struther. Jan Struther (Joyce Anstruther) was the author of Mrs Miniver and other celebrated works. She died in New York in 1953.
Together, Pat and Janet Rance decided to buy a village shop in Streatley, a picturesque Berkshire village on the banks of the River Thames. They were most interested in cheeses and when they first took over the shop, in 1954, it stocked just three: Dutch Edam, New Zealand Cheddar and Danish Blue. By 1980, the number of cheeses had risen to 150 and it had become one of the best cheese shops in Britain, importing many great French cheeses directly.
Pat Rance was passionate about good cheese and would offer customers free tastes to demonstrate the superiority of raw-milk cheeses over what he considered their 'pallid, pasteurized cousins'. He once said that "a slice of good cheese is never just a thing to eat. It is a slice of history." He also said cheese should never be put in the refrigerator and that no one should fear eating the rind.
The decline of the cheese making craft, until the 1980s, occurred when statutory Milk Marketing Boards collected milk in bulk from farmers and either sold it or used it for processing a uniform 'Cheddar' in large creameries.
People like Patrick Rance - and Randolph Hodgson of Neals Yard Dairy - took up the fight against bureaucracy and mediocrity in order to bring to the attention of the general public those clothbound, handmade cheeses. Now, new specialised cheesemakers have joined the struggle alongside the few remaining small farmhouse cheesemakers in attempting to reverse the trend of those 'pallid cousins'.
That reversal did not begin until Pat visited Scotland as well as other parts of Britain during the 1970s and 1980s encouraging many to persevere with artisan cheese-making. References to his research into cheeses can be found (inter alia) via this link. The European Debate .
In the international arena, few surpassed Patrick Rance. His books, described as 'seminal works', The Great British Cheese Book (Macmillan, 1982) and The French Cheese Book (Macmillan 1989) are thorough and highly recommended.
His travels to find cheeses led him and Janet to live in France. During the 1980s they bought a farmhouse in Fontveille in the Provence region where he researched his second cheese book, The French Cheese Book which is very detailed on finding good cheese makers and markets all over France. The book took six years to research. It is believed (2002) that a new edition of The Great British Cheese Book is in preparation.
In 1994 he wrote the foreword for Cheeses of the World by Bernard Nantet et al. (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.,) and it was said of his contribution: 'Patrick Rance has a full grasp of the relationship of pasture to product, as well as an appreciation for the farmstead cheesemaker. This is rare insight for a book intended for a non-agricultural consumer audience.'
On the cheesemaking calendar, there is now a Patrick Rance Memorial Trust Award - a trophy for the best English Cheese and both he and Janet were made members of the American Academy of Cheesemakers.
Pat Rance died, aged 81, on August 22, 1999. His wife, Janet, died in 1996. Patrick Rance has since been described as ' the godfather of the revival of farmhouse cheeses in England and elsewhere'
© Images of Patrick Rance and his two books courtesy of Victoria Rance