Hi, everyone, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about last week’s Northern Run and the latest news from the cheesemakers we visited. Our NYD team was composed of David, Sarah, Jason, and I, and we spent Tuesday through Thursday on the road and visited eight cheesemakers along the way.
Our first stop was to select Red Leicester—the cheeses were tasting great, with a really good structure and mellow warm flavour. David Clarke is accompanying the NYD export team to the USA on the last week of June, where he’ll be visiting customers before and tasting out the Sparkenhoe Red Leicester at the Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI) competition in New York. This is David’s first time to the States (apart from a brief layover en route to New Zealand a few years ago), and I look forward to hearing what he makes of it all…
Next up was Berkswell. Hopefully everyone has noticed the improvement in Berkswells made in December and January, which we are selling now: their texture is much more supple. We tasted batches from February and the first half of March, and while the end of February and early March were a little rougher in texture, we found plenty of cheese that will keep the quality level very high.
Then it was on to select Lincolnshire Poacher in the afternoon, where we tasted cheeses made from October 2016 through to January of 2017, which we’ll be selling from August through to around November of this year. Unlike with Hafod, where we will taste every batch made over a three-to-four month period when we visit, Simon and Tim do a pre-selection of cheeses for us at about a year old and set aside the batches they feel are the very best for us to select from. We have asked them to set aside about half of the forty batches that we tasted for us.
Winter cheeses tend to be a little more reserved in flavour, and we found these savoury and fairly intense in flavour, and a bit less-fruity than some of the summer 2016 cheeses that are on our shelves right now. Another change is that they are filling the vat more than they used to, which means that instead of the 25-28 cheeses per batch that we’ve had up to this point, these are big batches of up to 33 cheeses.
Given the wonderful quality of cheese we’ve had over the last year, and the resulting increase in our sales, we’re grateful for the extra availability.
The next morning, we traversed the country from east to west and ended up at Whin Yeats Dairy around 10AM. Clare and Tom showed us through their newly-completed milking parlour, just hours before they were planning to milk their cows in it for the first time that evening.
Their old milking parlour was very old and outdated, and this new setup will allow them to milk in a lighter, airier environment using brand-new equipment. It will also allow them to extend their maturation space into the area that held the old milking parlour, as their current tiny ripening room is entirely full from their production level of just 100kg of cheese per week.
Holker Farm Dairy
We continued onwards to visit Martin and Nicola and taste the St James they made in mid-May. The cheeses are big (around 2kg each), dense, and flavourful, and they’re making more than they ever have before. They’ve increased the flock size to 136 sheep, which are giving enough milk to make sixteen big cheeses per day.
As always, there is a lot going on at once: they’re starting to produce lactic cheese from milk they’re buying in from an ex-colleague who has now got her own herd of sheep, as well as making a round cheese called Juno and hard cheeses from milk from another source.
Ultimately, Martin hopes to make his farm more profitable by making cheese year-round, though St James will continue to be a seasonal cheese made only from the milk of their own sheep. It’s important to us that we sell these cheeses with clear information about the provenance of their milk, since we believe that the cheesemaking process starts with fundamental decisions about farming.
We made it to Kirkham’s by mid-afternoon, where we started with a walk round the farmyard followed by some of Ruth Kirkham’s famous fruitcake. As we sat round the table, we also tasted some fascinating maturing experiments that have been done recently, looking at cheeses from the same batch that have been matured in different environments and with and without cloth bindings.
The difference was extraordinary, and everyone at the farm (including Graham’s parents, who made the Lancashire before him) were extremely impressed by the flavour and texture of the experimental cheese without the cloth. It’s prompted them to think a lot about the conditions in their own maturing rooms, and how they might go about adapting the rooms and working with us to improve our collective approach to maturing the Lancashire.
We’ve noticed recently that there has been some variation in salt level in a few of the cheeses, and they are now working towards a system for measuring the salt that’s mixed with the ground curds. The late-April and early May cheeses are quite dense, with what Graham describes as ‘meaty’ textures (dry and a bit chewy). It will be interesting to see whether these drier cheeses are more suitable for long maturation.
On Thursday morning, we stopped in to see Sarah, Paul, and Garry at Appleby’s, and to taste cheeses made in late April and early May. This time, we tasted two randomly-selected cheeses from each batch rather than just one, and it was fascinating to see what aspects were similar and different between two cheeses from the same batch.
We were unanimous in our selection of the batch made on the 27th of April, which combined the characteristic crumble and open texture of Cheshire with a soft succulence and lots of savoury Cheshire flavour. Here, too, we are thinking about maturation.
Now that we have moved our maturing rooms to our new site, one of our goals is to get to understand these new maturing conditions inside-out, and how they compare—for better or worse—to the farm’s. As Sarah’s particular interest is in maturation, she’ll be setting up some experiments where we keep a couple cheeses back at the farm while we bring the rest to NYD, and then arrange to taste them side by side when we are selling the very last of that batch 6-8 weeks later.
Our final stop, on Thursday afternoon, was Stichelton. You may have noticed that the cheeses from early 2018 are maturing very slowly indeed, tasting very bright and acidic even though they’re at an age where we’d expect them to be fully broken down and mature.
The cheeses we tasted from mid-February (16 weeks old) are of this slow-maturing type, but our experience suggests that this style holds lots of promise as long as we can be patient and wait for them slowly to break down. Many of the batches made later in March were tasting more mature, so we’re working hard to stay on our toes and make sure that we’re selling them in order of ripeness and not automatically reaching for the next-oldest batch. We’ll be doing some experimenting with cold-ripening cheeses of this slow-maturing variety: in the past, it’s brought out deep, caramel sweetness and an amazing dense-yet-silky texture.
We left feeling very positive about the cheeses in the store: they looked very stable with no wet spots on the rinds: the more acidic batches tended toward whiter rinds, and the younger ones breaking down a bit faster had a classic golden rind and snowy caps.
We finished with a tour of the farm, where they’ve recently done a big review to ensure the quality of the raw milk. There’s been a real focus on working more closely with the milk-production team, and it was so interesting to see what improvements and refinements to their system they had come up with by working together. Joe is now using exclusively fresh morning milk, still warm from the cows, to make the cheeses, which has required a few refinements to the make, but which we all feel has played a big role in the deliciousness of the cheese recently.
As I’ve noted on previous postcards, this travelogue isn’t meant to replace conversation, but rather to prompt it. We’d love to hear feedback from throughout NYD, as well as from our customers who have been tasting these cheeses recently and have thoughts to share. Please get in touch — we look forward to hearing from you!