Here we share our cheese buyer Bronwen Percival's account of our recent trip to Holden Farm Dairy, where Hafod is produced.
We select Hafod three times a year, and the visits are different to our other Cheddar selections in that we spend longer there, taking in a cheese make and tasting six months’ worth of batches over two days. Rob has developed an experimental approach in which he alternates between four different makes, and we taste the cheeses twice: first at between 3 and 6 months in order to assess the results of the experiments, and then again between 6 and 9 months to make our selection. (If you’re interested in Rob’s approach and how it works, he made an interesting presentation about it at last year’s Science of Artisan Cheese Conference, and you can watch the video on the conference website.)
Rob’s most recent round of experiments has focused on using greater amounts of acidity and time settling under the whey to drive off more moisture from the curd. At the very beginning of the cheddaring process, and you can see how free-draining the matted curd is: hardly any moisture has pooled as the whey has drained away, and the curds themselves are springy and structured.
The picture above is taken almost exactly three hours later, after the matted blocks of curd have been repeatedly stacked and left to stretch and settle, interwoven with cotton cloths. The blocks have got so big and stretchy that they’ve had to be folded in half; it’s a bit hard to see, but the sheets of curd are silky, thin, and very dry—note that no whey is coming out of them as they’re being milled.
Despite the continued evolution of the make, most of our attention on this visit focused on the maturing side. During my last visit, we tasted a fifteen-month-old set of cheeses that had been matured with and without cloth binding. Everyone preferred the non-bound cheese, to such an extent that they decided at that point to leave one cheese from each subsequent batch to age with a natural rather than a clothbound rind. This time, we tasted those trial and standard cheeses from October and November side-by-side for every batch, and without exception the no-cloth cheeses were firmer and breaking down more slowly than the clothed cheeses. The most exciting thing was comparing the weaker batches: where the standard cheeses had somewhat sour or slightly cowy flavours, the cheeses that had been able to breathe were balanced and savoury and squeaky-clean. Above is a picture of Tess, Becky, and Debs ironing a clothed cheese on the left and its non-cloth partner on the right. Everyone was so excited about the promise of the latter that by the end of the tasting, they had made a decision to take the leap and move to all-cloth-free cheeses starting now. There’s a long history of Cheddar without cloth binding, but that’s beside the point according to Becky, who said, “we are only really thinking about what works for Hafod…it feels right for us at the moment—fingers crossed.”