Making cheese is fascinating and complex. Just when you think you are getting to grips with it another variable appears and changes your cheese. One early piece of advice I got was that learning to make cheese would take at least 3 years. Well here we are now 3 years in, and Sarah our cheesemaker is doing exceptionally well, but experienced cheesemakers now tell that there is no end to the journey – you never stop learning in cheese-making.
The crafts of cheese and whisky making have much in common – they both have varying ranges of ideal age – it’s finding the right age for each that is the craft. Kathy Biss, our cheese mentor visited recently to give us advice. We started with a 2 hour cheese tasting session (who needs lunch?)
Our award winning traditional Carrick got the thumbs up. However it is made to a Gouda style recipe and we all agree that while it is a very good cheese, it is not a Gouda.
Next up were 2 Tommes - cheese made to an Alpine cheese recipe. Kathy can be deliberately provocative. “That’s the best Caerphilly I have tasted in years”, she said. Hmmm, I suppose we wanted her to be honest! The second Tomme we tried got a much better reception. It was 6 weeks older – so that taught us a lesson - we can’t rush our Tommes.
Next Laganory – it is supposed to be our Caerphilly. The one we tried was 15 months old. It split us down the middle. The experts (Kathy and Sarah) said that the smell was enough, they weren’t even going to try it. Others said things like ‘My husband likes strong cheese – bet he’d like it’. And worryingly - for Kathy and Sarah – I genuinely liked it. The next Laganory was the opposite, Sarah liked it, most of the rest of us found it far too bitter.
Kathy came to the rescue – bring out some young Laganory, she suggested – maybe 6-8 weeks old. Caerphilly was traditionally eaten as a young cheese. So out came 6 cheeses that we had made as an experiment 7 weeks earlier. Everyone gave them all the thumbs up – result! From now on our Laganory will be sold at 8-16 weeks.
Finally our Fleet Valley Blue. We have been trying different methods of packing our blue cheese. Traditionally it is in foil – though that means that the customer doesn’t see the cheese. We tried an experiment of sealing it in a tray – which Sarah hates “Don’t put my cheese in a ready meal tray!” Then we tried a combination of cling film and greaseproof paper – which visually looks the best. We tasted 2 cheeses – one at 17 weeks and one at 15 weeks. The 15 week one was perfect. The 17 week one which had been kept in the sealed tray was very good, but the ones in foil and greaseproof had a smell of ammonia. Oh dear, we may have to consider that ready meal tray after all….
As one wise philosopher said ‘learning is easy, it is unlearning that is hard’!