Learning about cheese is an integral part of working in Neal’s Yard Dairy. We provide many learning opportunities, from informal workshops and maturing experimentation groups to farm and cheesemaking visits. Here, we hear from Deirdre, one of our retail cheesemongers, about her recent producer visit.
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of meeting Martin and Hazel Tkalez who make Pevensey Blue and Tim Jarvis, their cheesemaking helper. I arrived at Battle station, East Sussex just after 10am where large signs reminded me of the local history and added context to the Pevensey Blue Bayeux Tapestry inspired logo. Battle of Hastings references are common in Battle – special mention to William the Concreter for the best company name pun!
I was met by Martin in his pickup. As we drove to the cheesemaking space he walked me through his morning which started considerably earlier than mine. A cheesemaking day starts with Martin collecting 500 litres of milk from David and Marian Harding of Court Lodge Dairy around 5:30am.
Back at the cheesemaking room, the milk is loaded into the vat and pasteurised. That completes around 9am. Culturing usually happens about 9:30am and the rennet is added around 10:30am. On the day I visited, Martin was ahead of schedule and the rennet had been added by the time we arrived around 10:30am. Once kitted out and scrubbed up, my first job was to use a metre stick to cut the curds into strips in the vat.
While I was arms deep in the vat of curds and whey, Martin was taking temperatures and making notes and Tim was in the cold room piercing last week’s cheeses. I was to spend the next few hours stirring curds under Martin’s direction. Initially this was with a gentle underwater sculling motion then getting more vigorous as the curds broke down and firmed up – think head-up breaststroker to Adam Peaty.
During those hours, Martin told me more about the setup and how they got to where they are, the cultures, the cows, the future. Much of what we talked about was also covered in this article. Of course I also got to know the personality behind the cheese a bit better too, we discussed favourite chocolate bars (his Snickers, mine fruit and nut) Star Wars, Harry Potter...!
When the curds resembled popcorn kernels the whey was drained off and we started transferring the curds to the moulds. After the 23 moulds were filled and packed down, we did an initial turn then a further turn after 30 minutes. The cheeses were then weighed down overnight and the cleaning commenced. The next day, Thursday, the cheeses would be salted in brine for 20 hours. Piercing would follow next week and the week after. Currently Martin & Hazel make new cheeses 3 days a week. Wednesday’s batch is salted on Thursday and on Friday all the cheeses are turned.
At around 3:30 we were done for the day. Tim headed home and Martin dropped me off at Battle train station with some Pevensey Blue to nibble on the journey home and a mental note to keep an eye out for the 28/07 batch.