Cheesemaking is not a ‘spectator sport’! It takes all day to make the cheese, and often many weeks or months for it to mature.
It all began for us after a ‘crash course’ in Wales, where I stayed with Leon and Joan Downey for a week, helping to make their award winning Llangloffan cheese. Leon showed me the basics – and who could have failed to be inspired by his enthusiasm. Leon was seeking to retire, and we wanted to start up, and so his 1000 litre cheese vat, cast iron cheese presses, moulds and other associated equipment found a new home, and in January 2008, we made our first batch of cheese.
“Don’t waste that milk now” was Robert’s cautionary comment to me on that first morning.
Cheesemaking has continued apace for us ever since – we usually make 3 days a week, and we have now upscaled to a 2200 litre Vat which we sourced from Holland (where it had been used to make Gouda near Amsterdam).
Cheese making is a very natural process. It probably first happened quite by accident – perhaps stone age man was trudging the hills on a warm summer day, with milk for refreshment contained in an animal stomach ‘pouch’ slung over his shoulder. Stopping to drink from this early ‘flask’, he may have discovered not milk, but ‘curds and whey’. The enzymes in the lining of the stomach pouch – subjected to heat from the sun, and given time to act on the journey – may have converted the liquid milk to a rudimentary soft cheese.
Cheesemakers today have refined the process.
We take milk and warm it up, before adding rennet (an enzyme to ‘clot’ the curd). The ‘set’ curd is then cut (curds and whey), before stirring and further heating until the required size and temperature is reached (according to recipe). The whey is drained away, and the curd is cut into blocks, piled up, milled and salted, before being filled into moulds and pressed. These pressed ‘truckles’ are then moved into the cheese store to mature under carefully controlled conditions of temperature and humidity – imagine a cave, and you will have an idea of the sort of conditions that we need.
Special thanks to Andy Swinscoe of the Courtyard Dairy in Settle, who made this brilliant video when he visited us in the summer of 2015.