When I originally wrote about this on my other blog, I entitled it: 'All you wanted to know about Blue Cheese but were afraid to ask'
But actually it was more like: 'More than you realised there was to know about Blue Cheese and had no idea of how much to ask.'
‘Hello!’ came the cheery greeting over the phone, ‘I think I have something that might interest you…’
When I last wrote, back in June this year, we had finally decided on a site for our dairy and were talking to architects about getting the neccessary planning permission from the authorities that would allow us to build a dairy.
When Rose and I first spoke about their cheesemaking plans, she explained that one of the big obstacles was that they had not yet found an appropriate place on the estate to build the dairy. A couple of places had been proposed. She had her favourite. Neither one was without its problems.
One of them, Manor Farm, was close to Rose’s house and the main road through Nettlebed, with a lovely view over the hills looking to the south west, but, unfortunately, also with a tenant who was not far into his new lease. It was pretty unlikely that he might be prepared to give up one of his barns just because we quite wanted to turn it into a dairy.
Well first off, apologies for a long absence. It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing worth writing about, it’s pure laziness. However to remedy this, it’s time to put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard and talk about something I’ve been superstitiously not blogging in case of jinxing the operation…. Nettlebed Creamery.
So what has changed? Well, it’s fast becoming the worst kept secret in my life anyway as I talk about it to everyone I meet and progress is being made, so it’s time to set it out on the world wide web for all to see.
What is Nettlebed Creamery I hear you cry? Well, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
In my cheesemaking experience, I have been able to use both a home made starter, commercial bulk starters and commercial DVI. What are these I hear you ask? On this post I will go back a step and define the differences and what a starter culture is. A starter is a collection of bacteria that begin a fermentation process. In this case they are lactic acid producing bacteria or lactobacillus. There are many ways of making a starter culture as you are harvesting and using bacteria that are naturally present in raw milk anyway. Commercially, the most common starter type now is called DVI (Direct Vat Inoculation) and it comes in the form of a freeze dried powder which can just be sprinkled into a vat in big creameries and therefore is pretty hassle free.
I may be biased, but I have to hold my hands up and say that I think that the Crème Fraiche made by Neal’s Yard Creamery is easily the best I have ever tasted. Since <http: thecheesemakingyears.blogspot.co.uk="" 2011="" 05="" well-its-month-on-since-i-last-wrote.html"="">leaving London it’s been missing from my life and I had just about kidded myself that I didn’t miss it all that much, until I tried some again and all pretence was gone. Damn that stuff is good. I could sit down with a great big pot and a great big spoon and be one very happy girl. Of course, it does everything a crème fraiche should: accompanies a chocolate tart or apple pie, gives a silky, lovely texture to everything cooked with it.
Finn, an organic, double cream lactic-set cow's milk cheese, made by Charlie and Haydn of Neal’s Yard Creamery, may look a little familiar to any Zingermans Creamery customers as it closely resembles their Manchester cheese. While different pastures, milk, breed of cows, and the natural recipe adjustments all cheesemakers use to personalise their cheeses will set the two apart, they seem to share common ground. This is less of a surprise when you learn that part of the extensive research carried out by John Loomis, Paul Saginaw, and Ari Weinzweig involved a research visit to Neal's Yard Creamery to investigate cheese production.
At the end of June, I spent the best part of a week at Neal's Yard Creamery in Herefordshire learning and making cheese, crème fraiche and yoghurts with them. In the past I’ve made lots of social visits to Herefordshire in general and Neal’s Yard Creamery in particular so it was great to be back and to catch up with Charlie, Grainne, Conan, Holly, Finn and Rags the dog. Although initially Neal’s Yard Creamery and Neal's Yard Dairy were one and the same, the two parted ways after a few years when Charlie Westhead, until then an employee at Neal’s Yard Dairy working in the shop and driving around the country buying and selecting cheese, moved into cheesemaking and developed Neal’s Yard Creamery as a separate and sister company.
Anyone following Martin Gott (@martindongotty) on Twitter will have read that this week they started making St James cheese again and tomorrow, I will be making it again myself. It will be an interesting and challenging day in equal measures balancing the sheeps milk make and the cows milk make. After finishing with sheeps milk in November, I wonder how it will be using it again and how used I will have become to the cows milk texture when it sets. Will I cut the sheeps curd too soon? Will I drain it with enough pressure? The time, therefore, has come to introduce St James properly.
A fortnight ago the first lambs were born on Holker farm. At the moment it’s the youngest sheep, the first time mothers, that are giving birth and this means a higher degree of problems than the more experienced ladies who should start at the end of next week. It’s a natural part of the cheesemaker and dairy farmer’s year; no young uns, no milk. We tend to consider birth to be an entirely natural part of any animal’s life and especially because we as humans have such ready access to medical advice and support, we forget that it’s a major undertaking. While having lunch up at the farmhouse, I saw Nicola’s notes for the first 2 weeks.