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FINDING HOME

Clara Diez

Madrid, Spain

INTERVIEW: Leigh Patterson

PHOTOS BY: Justino Diez

Introducing the latest feature of our Finding Home series - reflections on home as feeling and place - told through the stories of individuals whose stories remind us that the notion of “home” can be discovered and defined again and again.

Forging a singular path in the world of artisanal cheese, Clara Diez is shaping a new conversation around sense of place as it relates to taste, terrior, and connection to the land.

Her project, Formaje, serves as a cultural hub, physical store and ever evolving space to explore the raw product; bringing the art of artisanal cheesemaking to life, returning to the elemental nature of time, place and community that surrounds her work.

We followed Clara through the streets of Madrid, at home and at work, as she shares how her rural upbringing and connection to the land still resonates in her daily pursuits, while exploring the fluid concept of home as it encompasses mission, place and vision.

On your journey:

Q. You’ve shared about your rural beginnings. What about this way of living connects most deeply with you?

I grew up in the countryside, in a rural area. I come from a big family (I am the eldest of seven siblings) and I have many memories of walking with my parents in the mountains, picking mushrooms, walking through the pine forest... these are memories that I treasure and which are inextricably linked to my childhood. My father is a botanophile and during visits to the countryside, he always told us about the name of each plant: its uses, its particularities.

As I got older, I always had in mind the idea of moving to the city, so when I was eighteen I moved to Madrid. Later I lived for a time in London, and then back to Madrid again, just when I started working with cheese.

However, I have always maintained a strong connection to the countryside: my brother has a goat farm in the mountains (in the village where we spend our summer holidays), and my work with cheese means that I spend a lot of time in the rural environments where the cheeses are made: visiting and talking to producers, looking for new cheesemakers...

I live in the city and yet my routine is deeply linked to the product of the rural environment. That comforts me and gives me a lot of solace.

Q. As someone whose “medium,” so to speak, is cheese, taste and terroir are inextricably linked. Where are Formaje’s cheeses taking us? What do you look for in the discovery of a new cheese or how you want to connect to it?

Formaje's philosophy is based precisely on revaluing everything that lies behind a cheese as a product: behind an excellent flavour, an incomparable texture... there is an environment, an animal, a human hand, a bacteriology connected to a territory, a climate... there is also the question of time, because cheese-making is something like a contemplative process: you have to respect the natural processes, the time it takes to curdle the milk so that you can then cut the curd; then the draining of the curd, and finally the maturation process (which can extend over months, even years in the case of some cheeses...). It is a practice based on patience and deliberation, on knowing how to respect the natural processes of the cheese.

It is similar to mindfulness, for me; I like to see it that way. In any case, when it comes to choosing the cheeses that form part of the Formaje selection, our aim is to offer cheeses that can be considered excellent in several respects: firstly, because they have an impeccable organoleptic quality, given that they are a gastronomic product. But, at the same time, we work with producers who understand that the word ''craftsmanship'' is not just a medal you put around your neck, but a responsibility that involves a constant search for and desire to do things better. Manual processes in cheese making are invaluable. Our producers take care of their raw material, their surroundings, they try to add value and are painstaking in their care with every part of the process. We also try to shift the conversation towards obtaining cheeses that are as natural as possible: as well as artisan and raw milk ones, we take the conversation a step further, and we try to create value on the basis of production with our own ferments (created by the cheesemakers from the bacteriology inherent in their milk). It's a conversation of some breadth.

Clara wears the Saatchi Sweater Cashmere in Oatmeal and the Boy Trouser in Salt.

Q. Formaje feels like it is forging its own path as a business and unfolding idea — forging new and uncharted path forward. Can you share more about the process of developing it? What are your plans for its future?

We have always conceived of Formaje as a constant work in progress. We launched the project during the Covid period (in fact, the day we opened was the first day in Spain that we were allowed to go out on the street after the quarantine), so I think that gave us a vision of adaptability, of fluidity: we understand that the company is a living entity, which has to adapt to the different requirements and needs of the market, but also to the personal progress of the people who make it up, which in this case is my husband, Adrián, and I.

When we started this project, we knew we wanted to create a platform that could draw from many different sources to build its own model: our mission is to promote excellence, give visibility and foster an appreciation for artisan cheese culture, and to do this, we sought to create a company that can be seen through various prisms: from the outset we sensed that creating physical spaces that were an experience per se was key, so we collaborated with our friends at Cobalto Studio (one of the best interior design studios in Spain, based in Barcelona) to create a shop concept that would elevate the product of cheese to the category of art, which is, without a doubt, where it really belongs. Craftsmanship, when well executed, is art without a doubt, and this is how we wanted to represent our respect for the product: by creating a space that would pay homage to all the work behind each piece of cheese, behind each batch. On the other hand, you have the constant collaboration with other sectors (fashion, art, technology...) which means that there is always an active conversation and an exchange of ideas with other fields and disciplines that helps us to enrich our discourse and make it more accessible to a public that perhaps might not have had much interest in the product at first, but can later come to see that behind cheese there is much more than just a simple food product.

Future plans are undoubtedly tied into digital expansion (currently our online sales already constitute a high percentage of our business) and the creation of more spaces that replicate the physical experience of our shop in Madrid. Finally, we want to nurture more and more the branch of communication and education that was always present in the vision for the project, through meetings, tastings, paper and digital publications... we want to talk about artisan cheese using all the available platforms.

Q. You’ve been in this world since you were 21. How has your own maturing brought you closer to or changed your relationship with what you do?

I think that as I’ve matured I’ve gained greater perspective: I am able to listen more, not overly-impose my opinion upon others, to understand that there are many ways of doing things properly, and this applies to cheeses as well. At the same time, I am clearer about what kind of practices I want to defend, which ones I identify with, which points in the process generate real value. I also have a better understanding of my position within the artisan cheese sector. I am sometimes asked if we plan to start producing our own cheeses. It is an option, but right now I feel that our place is to be the voice that brings the public closer to everything that exists behind and goes into the product: we are a sort of intermediary, and our place is in that space between the public and the producer. We are the voice that brings the world closer to the universe behind artisan cheese, which is so unknown. I am proud that this is our mission and I feel at home in it. I think I have come to acquire that feeling over the years. Working with cheese from such a young age has also deepened my respect for the product, in so many different ways.

"For me, home means a sort of safe haven. It is the place where you find 'peace' and where you find yourself after the hustle and bustle of everyday life."

On the idea of home:

Q. Ursula K. Le Guin said of love that it “[…] doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” Home, for us, conjures a similar sentiment – that while it feels stable, its manifestations are always in motion. How have you remade or reinvented “home” on your own terms? What presently feels like “home” to you, either a physical place or an idea?

For me, home means a sort of safe haven. It is the place where you find ''peace'' and where you find yourself after the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is a refuge that encompasses everything that connects you with yourself and yours, and this is precisely why it is always changing and evolving: what makes you ''feel alive” and inspired today is not the same as what made you feel this way yesterday, and in this way, the house adapts to your internal, emotional changes. For me, home is stability, light, family, and memories. I have a very intense relationship with my house, I feel that it is an external space that connects directly with the mental space inside each one of us. To come home is to rest, both mentally and physically.

Q. On the flip side, what always feels like “home” to you? (Perhaps a comforting food, ingredient, person, song, etc.?)

Cheese, jazz music, coffee (I love coffee, I always have one in my hand), Adrian (my husband), books on the floor (I'm messy), linen tablecloths and sheets (I love linen).

When I go back to my parents' house, where I grew up, I always find my space there, and in turn feel that strong connection to a younger me, which is still strongly present in my current self. I like to be surrounded by my parents and siblings, they are hugely important to me.

Clara wears the Essential Jean in Onyx.

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