When I tell people I am an amateur cheesemaker, their first question is often “can I buy some?” (no, but you can have some for free) – and their second “when will I be able to buy it in shops?” (not in the near future!)
It’s great people are so keen to invest in amateur cheesemaking, but I’ve never really looked to sell my cheese, perhaps due to an ill-fated attempt to sell halloumi at MsMarmiteLover‘s Underground Farmer’s Market. Despite some careful pre-planning, budgeting and pricing, it ended up costing me far more than I earned back (over £100!), due to the large numbers of people only interested in sampling the product rather than purchasing it.
That experience made me realise that cheese is a hobby for me, and I’ve no particular desire (at the moment) to turn it into a money-making business. Plus, if I were required to produce even small volumes of cheese on a regular basis, I’d have to look at scaling up my operation substantially, and would put a stop to much of the experimentation I enjoy.
However, I am still interested in the question of what price I would sell my cheese at, were I to take it to market (even if that’s academic at the moment). It’s a dilemma many suppliers face: wanting to produce the highest quality product whilst keeping the final sale price within reason.
Using quality raw ingredients feels important to me, but taking cost into account, I’ve begun to wonder which items can be substituted out for cheaper options without impacting the quality of the final product?
Experiment 3: Milk Type and Quality
This was an obvious candidate for another experiment! My main raw material (and a huge portion of the cost of a make) is of course that creamy white liquid – milk. I wanted to find out whether there was any discernible difference in resulting cheese when I varied the milk type – not just the animal, but also the quality.
I purposely left out any milks I wasn’t easily able to get my hands on. I would’ve loved to use some Helsett Farm organic pedigree Ayrshire milk, or some bizarre rare milk in the hope of finding something spectacular, but I decided I should concentrate on milks which were easily accessible. After all, I could always repeat the experiment with another set of milks later, then have a “final” where the supreme champion could be declared!
So, last Friday I got up on my bike and cycled round the local shops picking up milk, and came back with the following list.
Milk 1: Ellie’s Dairy (Raw Goat)
Milk number one on the list is my old favourite – Ellie’s Dairy raw goat milk. Each 2 pint container costs £1.50, giving a per litre price of £1.32.
I’ve been using Ellie’s Dairy for the entire time I’ve been making cheese, mainly because it’s readily available, and has never given me any problems.
Having spoken with Debbie (who recently appeared on Countryfile surrounded by goats!) and reading about the farm’s values, it’s clear that the herd are well taken care of, with antibiotics and hormones not routinely used.
Milk 2: St Helen’s Farm (lightly homogenised pasteurised goat)
It took me a fair while to actually find any milk other than cow in Sainsbury’s, although no doubt that is due to lesser demand. There’s no detail about where the milk comes from on the side of the cardboard packet, although the website gives a fair bit of detail – they have 3,500 goats, and milk three times a day.
The milk itself is said to be “lightly homogenised”, which strikes me as a little odd, since goat milk is naturally homogenised by virtue of the fat globules being small, and evenly dispersed throughout the milk. The St Helen’s Farm website does however state that some of the fresh milk makes it’s way to Cricketer Farm for cheesemaking (which is a good sign), who appear to make a “healthy” cheddar from the milk.
Milk 3: Hook & Son (raw cow)
I’ve used this milk a fair bit in the past, even getting one of my blog posts replicated on the Hook & Son site. Last Summer though, a combination of an extremely warm day, and unfortunate placement of the milk by the delivery driver outside my house left me with 30 litres of spoiled milk, which was quite upsetting.
They’ve recently started selling their milk at Borough Market though, which makes it relatively convenient to pick up, although it does mean an early start on a Saturday to beat the crowds. The herd is Fresian-Holstein, known for it’s excellent milk volume production, set in Hailsham over 180 acres.
Hook & Son also run the only raw cow milk dispenser in the UK, located in Selfridges, London. This has reportedly been out of action for some time now though, and ominously it seems their online shop seems to be shut too, plus they weren’t at Borough Market this weekend. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, and they’ll be up and selling again soon!
Milk 4: Ivy House (pasteurised cow)
This milk has great memories for me. When I first started making cheese, a friend (the excellent Curd Nerd on twitter) working at Neal’s Yard Dairy set aside some almost-expired milk over New Year’s, when the shop was going to be closed for a few days. I spent the entire New Year’s of 2010 furiously making cheese, none of which turned out very well – likely due to a lack of skill than anything else!
Ivy House milk comes from organically farmed Jersey’s, based in Somerset. Traditionally Jersey milk is seen as not being the best fit for cheese making, due to the large size of the fat molecules, which are often lost when the curd forms, as the casein molecule bonds are unable to trap the fat. I’ve generally seen good results in the past though, and the milk itself tastes delicious!
Milk 5: Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference (pasteurised cow)
Milk number five is Sainsburys Taste the Difference Jersey milk. Cost £1.00 per litre.
There doesn’t seem to be much information on the Sainsbury’s website about this (other than the helpful “Dietary Information: contains milk”), however this is on the side of the bottle:
Fabulously creamy, milk from Jersey cows is renowned for its rich flavour. Ours is produced by a pedigree Scottish herd, and left unhomogenised for an old-fashioned ‘top of the milk’ taste
Aside from the odd shape and volume of the container (why 750ml?), there isn’t anything else to report, except that it tastes quite sweet, which is a little odd. Doing a bit of digging around Google’s cache seems to indicate that at one point the milk for Taste the Difference may have come from Graham’s Family Dairy, based in Scotland. Their website makes a big deal of being organic though, which the packaging makes no mention of so perhaps this is no longer the case.
Milk 6: Sainsbury’s (homogenised pasteurised cow)
Milk number six is the most basic milk available from Sainsbury’s, simply called “Whole British milk”, priced at £0.52 per litre (or even cheaper at £0.44 per litre if you buy three of the four-pinters).
The packaging reads:
Pasteurised homogenised standardised 3.6% fat whole milk
Not exactly the most friendly description, with no detail about how the animals are kept, fed or nurtured. It does say that the milk is produced “in partnership with our farmers” – but I’m not sure what that means?! How would you produce milk without being in partnership with farmers? Steal it?
Note that usually homogenisation and standardisation are a complete no go area when it comes to cheese making, since the high-impact jets which break up the fats also smash everything else in the milk, leaving the casein unable to form any kind of bonds. I thought it might be interesting to include the milk (and the “lightly homogenised” goat milk) anyway, just to see what would happen.
So those are the milks, the actual home cheesemaking will follow in the next post!