I entered Shed of the Year recently, and recorded this little video of where I make my cheese at home:
I’ve been getting a fair few emails recently asking whether I’m still making cheese, and the answer is YES! However in the past few months, @heatherrhian and I have been somewhat distracted by our wedding.
And what would you expect at an amateur cheese-maker’s wedding? A cheese wedding cake of course!
After much deliberation I decided not to risk making the cheese cake myself, mainly because the work required would’ve been way too much, and I would’ve stressed myself out completely if anything went wrong!
Cutting the cake was brilliant – we went through the Feallan with ease, then got completely stuck on the Spenwood.
We eventually managed to get through it, fingers all intact. The cheese was in absolutely perfect condition. I would heartily recommend Neal’s Yard Dairy to anyone looking to get a cheese wedding cake. Many people have said it was the best cheese they’ve ever tasted, so I’d consider that a success!
At the heart of any sticky, orange-coloured cheese like Milleens or Stinking Bishop is the bacteria brevibacterium linens. This naturally occurring bacteria is present on human skin at an incredibly high concentration, and if left unchecked, can start to smell – especially on your feet!
Just as the blue of Roquefort cheese comes from naturally occurring spores in the Roquefort Caves, washed rind cheeses are also a product of their surroundings. Historically, sweaty cheesemakers unwittingly transferred their own strain of bacteria to the cheese which, with the right environment, caused a sticky, pungent orange rind to form. As the cheese matured, the bacteria ate into the cheese paste, causing it to break down into a soft, meaty cheese.
Nowadays of course, the bacterial strain has been isolated and cheese is innoculated directly during the make, or propagated from an existing cheese through washing. Even though cheese making is a sanitary process, the “smelly feet” odour remains, which sadly turns a lot of people off washed rinds. It’s unfortunate because many – such as Stinking Bishop – actually have quite a mild flavour.
I picked up my usual 24 pints of Redlays Farm unpasteurised Ayrshire milk from Blackheath market on Sunday and got cracking!
Having not had much success with making washed rinds in the past, I asked around a few cheese making friends and forums for any tips. A fair number of people recommended innoculating with geotrichum candidum to create a “clean layer” for the brevibacterium linens to grow on. So, after heating the milk to 31C, I added these, plus some DVI starter and left to acidify for 30 minutes.
Previous experiments into how much rennet to use indicated I should use around 0.06% animal rennet, diluted in four times as much water, to achieve a set in around 60 minutes.
In reality the curd took around 20 minutes longer than expected to give a clean break – I think this may be down to natural degradation in strength of the rennet, as I’ve had the same bottle on the go for quite a while now.
Using a palette knife, I cut the curd into roughly 1cm cubes, starting with large blocks vertically, then smaller and smaller, angling the knife to try and cut through the blocks. Cutting the curd allows whey to be released from the curd, and slows down the rennet acidification.
Once the curd has rested for a few minutes to allow it to heal (i.e. recover from the cutting), it’s time to get stirring and heating in order to slow the rennet action even further and release more whey, making a less squidgy curd. I heated to around 35C over the course of 20 minutes or so.
Here’s where my lovely vat becomes really useful. Having the tap at the front allows whey to be drained off much quicker and easier than ladelling out by hand. Once the whey had been completely drained off, it’s time to carefully squash the curd into the moulds and add some weights on top for around 24 hours.
Then it’s time for the salting to start! In the past, I’ve mostly used dry salting (i.e. applying salt directly to the cheese), however washed rinds are generally initially bathed in salt water to allow the salt to permeate throughout the cheese. In this case, the cheeses floated around in a 16% brine solution for 12 hours, after which they were given a bit of a drying off, then placed in a fridge at 16C at over 90% humidity.
After about a week, a light fluffy covering of geotrichum candidum had appeared, so it was time to start washing, to keep the surface moist and salty to encourage the brevibacterium linens growth.
First up for a wash was the parent propagator cheese. This is one from a previous batch of cheese I’d made which had ended up with a great flavour and texture, so I wanted the strain to continue. Washing consisted of a couple of drops of 10% salt water solution and a bit of gentle smearing.
Washing continued roughly every couple of days. As my experience with Bermondsey Spa had taught me, if the texture of the surface was any more moist than a postage stamp, I postponed washing till the following day.
After about three weeks I cracked them open and had a taste. They were really, really good! So good in fact that I actually allowed other people to have a taste, including washed rind cheese king, Bill Oglethorpe of Kappacasein, who said:
Just polished off the cheese, it’s really good! I thought there might be too much salt and a hint of bitter but on second thoughts its fine. The contrast in textures is really nice, oozing on the edges and slightly chalky in the middle. I left it at room temperature for a couple of days and it survived very well.
I’m very happy with this recipe and the feedback. Next time I might try to go a little lighter on the salt concentration to address Bill’s concerns, but other than that it seems like a winner!
Although I entered the World Cheese Awards last year, I’ve never actually experienced a cheese awards in person. The volume and variety of cheese was incredible.
There were a few award winners dotted around the room which were quite surprising to say the least. I was quite curious to see how blue Laughing Cow and the chocolate and orange cheese tasted, but I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of scoffing unattended cheese.
Although the rest of the Nantwich Agricultural Show was cancelled due to poor weather, on the day the sun was beating down, making it quite an uncomfortable atmosphere for some of the cheeses on show.
There were a fair few familiar faces around. Peter Elvin of Butlers Cheese very kindly gave me a little tour and access to the hospitality area while clutching his trophy awarded to one of their Raven’s Oak goat cheeses.
Good news! I have been shortlisted for the Young British Foodies in the “Honorary Young British Foodie” category, with my entry which involved making cheese from a single animal, a goat from Ellie’s Dairy called Footsie. The results will be announced on May 29th at the Young British Foodie awards event.
The event will feature food created by entrants to the Young British Foodies, and I’ve teamed up with Kiren Puri of the Bladebone Inn to create a canape featuring my cheese. Obviously since cheese making is a hobby for me, this requires some careful planning to ensure I have sufficient cheese available, as the event will be attended by around 200 people.
After some careful calculations, I decided to make 45 small raw goat white cheeses, over the course of three days, and matured for around a week. This meant tripling my usual milk order from Ellie’s Dairy from 24 pints to 72, so rather than ask Debbie to lug them all the way to Franklins for me to pick up, I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit the dairy in person, and meet Footsie, who had helped me get to the finals with her lovely milk!
Situated in Kent, just over an hour from my home in South East London, the dairy is home to the happiest goats I’ve ever seen.
A few seconds after I took the photo above, the goats noticed I was a new person and came over to investigate.
Goats have a fantastic habit of staying perfectly still until you’ve pressed the button on your camera to take a photo, at which point they bob their head around.
It wasn’t long until the little kids got in on the action and started bleating for attention and running around to see what was going on.
Kidding season has just finished, so there were plenty of newborns vying for prime position, which apparently for a young goat is standing on a bucket.
After a bit of cajoling, and luring with bananas, Footsie came back in from the field to see what was going on.
Having never fed a goat before, I started peeling one of the bananas I’d brought for her, only to have her grab the whole thing and chew it down, skin and all.
I also got to meet famous Jake the Peg, who had jumped on fence too many and broken his leg, which is now in a little cast.
We took a little wander out into the field, where we were quickly surrounded by inquisitive grazing goats, who seemed to enjoy nibbling the pegs on my duffle coat and shoes quite a lot!
Thank you to Debbie, Julie and Francesca for letting me come and take a look around, it was so heart-warming to see how healthy and happy all the goats are. The importance of good quality milk in cheese making is absolutely paramount, and it was fantastic to meet them in person, especially Footsie!