SCA Farm Visit
Cheesemakers, cheesemongers and cheese lovers all descended upon Tom Calver and team at Westcombe cheddar last weekend for the annual farm visit and AGM of the SCA – or the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.
In their own words, the SCA is an alliance of cheesemakers, retailers, wholesalers and others involved with artisan cheese, which was established to encourage excellence in cheesemaking. It provides a forum for members to exchange ideas and represents the interests of members to the Government and media.
As well as being a forum for all the SCA members to meet, talk, eat cheese and seek advice, there is also a chance to be shown around the host farm. Immediately upon our arrival, we were shepherded onto the back of a tractor trailer and carted through the farm to where the milking for Westcombe Cheddar happens. Richard Calver, Tom’s father, was the perfect guide as he pointed out the different pastures that the cows graze on at different times of the year, as well as local landmarks.
Once we had seen where the milk comes from, we were shown where all of the cheesemaking happens. We learnt about the Westcombe cheddar make, as well as the ‘new’ yet actually much older Edith Cannon method from the turn of the last century that is helping Tom and team learn more about their cheese. As well as Westcombe Cheddar, the dairy also makes Duckett’s Caerphilly, whose recipe was handed down from Chris Duckett over the years finally making its way to Tom, along with the now 40-year-old brine. The whey from all that cheesemaking finally goes towards the ‘re-cooked’ ricotta.
One of the most impressive developments at the farm over the years is the addition of the custom-built maturation cave. Inspired by the space at Marcel Petite, one of France’s best Comte affineurs, the new cave dug into the hillside has seen a vast improvement to the quality of the cheese.
The lion’s share of the labour that happens within the cave is not done by hand but by a custom-built robot, lovingly called ‘Tina the Turner’. Throughout the day she tirelessly turns and brushes all the cheeses in the store, something that would have taken a team of maturers much longer to do and with inconsistent results due to the fatigue involved with such a task.
After the excitement of seeing the ins and outs of the farm, it was down to business. Part of what makes the SCA such a valuable resource for the cheese industry is the vast amount of knowledge and support found in the technical committee. As well as having drafted a SCA Assured Code of Best Practice for cheesemakers, the technical committee is on hand to provide advice and support to any of its members. Two technical talks took place on the day, in the cheese cave’s meeting room overlooking the rows of Westcombe.
Taking place in the beautifully laid out marquee before the dinner was the cheese tasting – almost a speed-dating format for cheesemakers to share what is new or different about what they are doing. One cheesemaker showed the difference between morning milk and evening milk. Another how traditional rennet and vegetarian coagulant affect the final outcome. What can seem like tiny tweaks to the make, can result in vast changes to the flavour and texture.
Before dinner were two key annual awards. The first was the James Aldridge Memorial Award for the best British raw milk cheese and finally the Dougal Campbell Bursary, a £1,000 award for new or existing cheesemakers. Both are voted for by the SCA members, making the recognition from peers all the more rewarding.
After the festivities of the night before, the Sunday concludes the weekend with the SCA Annual General Meeting where the I’s are dotted and t’s crossed, as well as an opportunity to thank and praise those who may not have been mentioned the previous day.
If you would like to learn more about the SCA, take a look at their website.