The hidden role of raw milk microbes

Radio 4’s Food Programme featured Neal’s Yard Dairy’s buyer and technical manager Bronwen Percival in its episode on the history and future of cheesemaking.

Bronwen spoke about the hidden role of naturally-occurring milk microbes in promoting unique and diverse flavours within cheese. Our mission at Neal’s Yard Dairy is to improve British cheese, not just by working closely with and supporting the best farmhouse cheese producers in the British Isles, but also by promoting the dissemination of knowledge and encouraging cheesemakers to explore time-honoured cheesemaking techniques.

Many of these skills have been lost over the last 150 years as production has been ramped-up and farming made more intensive, but new discoveries about the microbial communities of farms—and the ways in which native microbes can actually contribute to cheese safety—is leading the scientific and cheesemaking community to rethink the conventional wisdom that conflates safety with sterility.

Bronwen has played an active role in this process, including coordinating the translation of a French textbook on harnessing raw milk microbiology, written by scientists for cheesemakers. Neal’s Yard Dairy’s maturing team are now applying some of these same principles in our own cheese maturation stores in London, where we encourage the native microbes on the surface of our washed rind cheeses to grow and populate the rinds rather than relying on commercial inoculants. We feel that the best route to sustainability for raw milk, farmhouse cheese is to celebrate the flavours that come from good farming practices and the natural microbial ecosystems of those farms themselves. These are flavours that can never be replicated in a factory.

Listen to The Future of Cheese at: