May 2, 2019

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate

Cheese made from Alex James, Heston Blumenthal, Professor Green, Ruby Tandoh and Suggs goes on show in V&A’s upcoming FOOD: Bigger than the Plate exhibition

The V&A’s forthcoming exhibition FOOD: Bigger than the Plate will feature four cheeses cultured from human bacteria. Unique ‘microbial portraits’ of Blur’s Alex James, British rapper Professor Green, baker and columnist Ruby Tandoh, and Madness frontman Suggs will be on display, recreated as Cheshire cheese, mozzarella, stilton and cheddar respectively.

The project is made by biodesigner Helene Steiner, chef John Quilter (AKA the FoodBusker) and scientist Dr Thomas Meany. The interdisciplinary team are based at Open Cell, an open research centre for biotechnology, in West London. The project seeks to educate the public and challenge cultural squeamishness about bacteria. It draws on recent scientific studies of the microbiome and its importance in how the human body functions. Contemporary society focuses on cleanliness and hyper-sanitation, however our gut health and experience of the world around us – taste, smell – are dependent on the microbial world.

To create Selfmade for the exhibition, Steiner and her team took bacteria samples from the surface of our donors’ skin, using synthetic biology to grow starter cultures which were then combined with fresh, pasteurized milk to create four unique cheeses. The intensive cheesemaking process was carried out by Foodbusker at Open Cell in Shepherd’s Bush, London, working with a specialist cheesemaker, to produce:

Cheshire cheese made using Alex James’s bacteria
Comte made using Heston Blumenthal’s bacteria
Mozzarella made using Professor Green’s bacteria
Stilton made using Ruby Tandoh’s bacteria
Cheddar made using Suggs’ bacteria

Once matured, the four Selfmade cheeses will be exhibited within a refrigerated display.

The project, titled Selfmade, was conceived in 2013 by scent expert Sissel Tolaas and artist Christina Agapakis. It is one of over 70 contemporary projects in FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, which explores how innovative individuals, communities and organisations are radically re-inventing how we grow, distribute and experience food. Taking visitors on a sensory journey through the food cycle, from compost to table, it poses questions about how the collective choices we make can lead to a more sustainable, just and delicious food future in unexpected and playful ways.

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