Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day is an initiative of the Oldways Cheese Coalition, a US-based non-profit organisation that aims to promote awareness and enjoyment of foods produced in a time-honoured way. We’re celebrating on Saturday 17th October along with cheesemakers and retailers around the world, highlighting the best tasting raw milk cheeses in our shops and featuring cheeses made with raw milk in special selection offers like this one.
Many of the cheeses that we sell at Neal’s Yard Dairy are made from raw milk—in other words, milk that has not been heat-treated before it is turned into cheese. Using raw milk is not an appropriate choice for every cheesemaker: it requires exquisite control over the farming and milking practices to ensure that pathogens are not introduced into the milk and thus the cheese. So why go to the extra trouble? Much of the flavour of cheese—raw milk and otherwise—comes from the activity of microbes that grow within the curd as the cheese is made and then break it down into flavourful compounds as it ages. Pasteurisation, the process of heating milk to 72 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds, kills any pathogens that might be present, but also destroys most naturally-occurring milk microbes. In pasteurised cheeses, these are replaced by a limited number of strains of bacteria (called ‘starter cultures’) that have been selected to do the work of souring the milk. While starter cultures are also used in many raw milk cheeses, they work alongside the native bacteria present in the raw milk as the cheese is made. As a result, raw milk cheeses have a more diverse set of microbial residents, and that diversity leads to more complex and interesting flavours as the cheeses age.
This box features three classic raw milk cheeses sold by Neal’s Yard Dairy. It’s no coincidence that these cheeses are also ‘farmhouse’ cheeses, i.e., cheese made by the farmers who produce the milk.
Berkswell is a sheep’s milk cheese made at Ram Hall Farm in Warwickshire, where the Fletcher family have been farming for generations. Berkswell cheese was first made by Sheila Fletcher in 1989, and today her son Stephen and grandson George manage the business and their herd of Friesland sheep. They are working to optimise their milk for raw milk cheesemaking, while Julie Hay, their head cheesemaker, is focusing on developing the make to highlight the cheese’s tender texture and fruity, savoury flavours. We chose batches made in March for this selection because they are exhibiting a range of profiles from sweet and fruity flavours with soft, yielding textures to more salty, savoury wheels.
Hafod is a Cheddar-style cheese made on an organic hill farm in verdant west Wales. The milk from the small herd of sixty-ish Ayrshire cows is ideally suited to cheesemaking in many ways: the cows graze on fields rich with hundreds of species of grasses, herbs, and flowers, and the team milking the cows have adopted the practice of cleaning their teats with fluffy handfuls of fine wood shavings, a technique favoured by alpine cheesemakers in Europe for its ability effectively to clean the cows’ skin while preserving the natural diversity of lactic acid bacteria that reside there and inoculate the milk. Back in 2017, the team making Hafod experimented with the production of a trial batch of Cheddar made solely with the natural bacteria in the raw milk—you can hear more in an episode of BBC Radio 4's Food Programme during which our buying team travels to the farm to taste and grade the young cheese.
Baron Bigod is a cheese styled after the French classic Brie de Meaux, and like its French counterpart, features raw milk. Jonny Crickmore, who directs the farm and the cheese business, is adamant that the cheese is made from milk that is still warm from the morning’s milking. In fact, the act of refrigeration alters the microbial balance of raw milk for the worse, as it promotes the growth of cold-loving strains that are often associated with bitter flavours and spoilage. Using unrefrigerated milk captures this raw material in its optimal condition, and the results are evident in the delicious complexity of the finished cheese.
Find our Raw Milk Cheese Selection here. We hope you enjoy this selection of some of our favourite raw milk cheeses.