- If you want to make your own, make sure to use the finest ingredients possible, says Catalina Stogdon.
By Catalina Stogdon
Everything starts with the milk. Good cheese cannot be made from bad milk," says Dudley Martin, "so our story begins with Ed our herdsman. Fresh from the cow, we take the milk and siphon it into our churns; add cultures and rennets to form the curds and whey, before salting, greasing and storing for over a year for maximum flavour."
Dudley takes his cheese very seriously. And so he should. Along with Paul Bedford, they are the cheese men in the food operation at the Ludlow Food Centre in Bromfield, Ludlow, who have 33 years' combined cheesemaking experience. They hand-churn their cheeses, including an award-winning soft variety, Croft Gold, which is doused every three days in cider brandy, stinks to high heaven and is as packed with as much pungent flavour as it is fragrance.
The farm shop, which exhibited recently at the renowned Ludlow Food Festival, relies on its 180 Holstein-Friesian cows which make up their High Walton herd, with each cow producing 25-28 litres a day. The cows are fed on grass for seven months of the year from the meadows of the Onny and silage, including brewer's grain, for the remainder, which affects its flavour and gives the cheese its seasonality.
"The quality of the pasture, the plants the animals graze on, even the chemistry of the soil itself will have a bearing on the composition of the milk," says Dudley. "If we were making wine, this would be called its terroir.
A summer-produced cheddar will have less fat, a "grassier" taste, and a flakier texture. "Christmas cheddars, when the cows will have eaten more brewer's yeast in their feed and have higher levels of butterfat, will be creamier," says Dudley.
His cheeses are allowed to mature for 14 months at least; 18 months makes for a vintage cheddar. "A giveaway, if cheddar is properly mature, is that it will have crunch, caused by the crystals of calcium lactate." A lot of the more commercial cheese relies on a culture to make them sweeter; a traditional cheddar has much more tang, bite and acidity. "It's how a cheese like cheddar should taste," he says.
In the hunt for "real taste" and tradition, many are now joining the growing number of cheesemaking courses, which are spreading all over the country, to learn how to make their favourite variety at home. The Cheesemaking Workshop, based in Arundel, takes you through the process of six different cheeses in a six-hour course, including Camembert and Brie, feta and ricotta, from working with starter cultures to learning about the ageing process.
Mandy Nolan, who learnt to make cheese on a course in Australia, runs her "very hands-on" course from her home in West Sussex, and says that "once you have eaten your own feta, you will never want to buy ready made again".
There is no need for expensive equipment; all you require is an insulation box, culture and "everything else you will already have in your kitchen. It is much easier than baking a cake," says Mandy. The groups of three work together heating and stirring the milk, adding the rennet and going through the whole process from theory to finished cheese, taking away their hand-crafted creations at the end of the day.
Another company catering to cheese fanatics, Cutting the Curd, explores the early history of cheese and teaches the basics of soft-cheese making, including halloumi and mozzarella. They also sell starter kits and supplies to take away.
Lakeland's soft-cheese making kit has proved so popular that the kitchenware supplier has just launched its hard-cheese making version for cheddars, Cheshire and Wensleydales, including culture, press, rennet and measuring devices.
Not one to boast of at Christmas, perhaps, and certainly not one to rival the cheeses of Ludlow, but a good place to start experimenting in your own kitchen.