Cheese & Cheesemaking
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PASTEURISED AND RAW MILK CHEESE AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Raw milk has not been heat treated or pasteurised. It has all its natural bacteriological and enzymatic characteristics. Raw milk is not the same thing as unpasteurised milk – while all raw milk is unpasteurised, not all unpasteurised milk is raw. Pasteurised milk has been heated to a particular temperature, for a specific time, in order to kill off certain bacteria. While pasteurisation ensures the destruction of many of the pathogens that may or may not be present, it also strips the milk of beneficial and innocuous natural flora.
All of Britain’s territorial cheeses – Cheddar, Cheshire, Stilton, Lancashire, the Gloucesters, Wensleydale, Caerphilly, Red Leicester, and others now no longer made – were once raw milk cheeses.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the microbes in carefully-produced raw milk play an important part in helping to ensure their safety as well as improving the sensorial properties of the cheese. Our suppliers often use milk from their own farms, thereby ensuring that they have total control over the quality of their raw materials. Check the description lists to see whether a cheese is pasteurised or not.
WHAT DOES NEAL'S YARD DAIRY LOOK FOR IN CHEESE?
Cheesemakers who produce cheese with the greatest of care demand the very best milk. These are the cheesemakers we choose to work with. We are passionate about selling cheese that is a reflection of careful farming and milk production in a unique and interesting place. Good milk for cheese is packed with inherent interest. That is why we care so much about the use of raw milk, or the milk from small and unique farms.
WHY DOES THE SOURCE OF THE MILK MATTER?
The height of what a cheese can achieve is dictated by the quality of the milk. When cheese is made by farmers, they have the opportunity to start their cheesemaking decisions in the pastures and their breeding programmes, and they see the consequences directly in the vat. No milk purchasing contract, however specialised, can compete with this fine-grained control. In all of our signage and in our cheese descriptions online, we specify the source of the milk, to help our customers make informed decisions about what to buy.
IF MILK IS UNIQUE, WHY DOES IT ALL TASTE THE SAME?
Pastuerisation, refrigeration and homogenisation are all methods of standardising milk. Milk that has been processed in this way is not intended to have unique characteristics. Heavily processed milk does not make interesting cheese. That is why Neal’s Yard Dairy seeks out cheese made from raw, single farm milk.
WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE MILK FLAVOUR?
Factors of influence on milk flavour fall into two categories. Firstly, individual factors such as the type of animal, the breed, their age, health and stage of lactation. Secondly, environmental factors such as the animals' location and climate, the farming system, what the animals were fed, how they were housed, the milking method and whether chemicals and medicines were used in milking.
These factors can influence the composition of the milk and the distribution of the constituents, its microbial diversity, flavour compounds and colour.
IF RAW, UNPROCESSED MILK IS SO GREAT, WHY DON'T ALL CHEESEMAKERS USE IT?
Not all unprocessed milk is good milk. Good quality raw milk is difficult to produce and very difficult to produce consistently. Using a highly variable raw material can make it very difficult for the cheesemaker to manage the cheese outcomes. Unless a cheesemaker can achieve some level of consistency, it is very difficult to be financially viable.
Provided it has been properly pastuerised, there are fewer worries about inherent pathogenic bacteria or viruses in pasteurised milk. Pasteurised milk is frequently seen as the norm in terms of food safety and production regulations. Therefore it is easier for the cheesemaker to work within the regulatory framework they find themselves in, rather than taking risks or challenging the status quo.
Lastly, not every aspiring cheesemaker can also become a farmer, or find a good source of raw milk local to them.
WHAT IS RENNET?
Rennet, a mixture of enzymes extracted from the stomachs of young ruminant mammals (calves, kids, or lambs), is used to make most cheeses. It transforms liquid milk into solid curd, which is the first step in cheesemaking. The most abundant enzyme in rennet is called chymosin.
WHAT OTHER COAGULANTS CAN BE USED TO MAKE CHEESE?
Vegetarian substitutes have been developed as an alternative to animal rennet. We refer to laboratory-derived enzymes using the precise term, ‘vegetarian coagulant’.
A notable alternative to synthetic coagulants is the use of plant extracts which are also capable of setting milk. Figs, papaya, thistles and cardoons contain enzymes similar, although not identical to, those in animal rennet. Interestingly, the different enzymes lead to different flavours and textures in the cheese. Many Spanish and Portuguese cheesemakers use plant based coagulants. The only cheese that we stock that is made using cardoons is Sinodun Hill, which is made with a purified commercial cardoon coagulant, but we do stock other vegetarian coagulant cheeses such as Riseley, Beenleigh Blue and Winslade
CAN CHEESE BE MADE WITHOUT COAGULANTS?
Some types of cheese (such as ricotta and paneer) are coagulated by the combination of heat and acidity from the action of the lactic acid bacteria in the milk, sometimes boosted by the addition of vinegar or citric acid.
ARE THERE ANY PORK PRODUCTS IN CHEESE?
Animal rennet typically comes from the same species of animal as the milk being used for cheese. Calf-rennet is used to produce cows milk cheese and so forth. A few of the cheeses we sell use lard as a rind processing agent in the cloth binding. These cheeses have a note that says “*Clothbound with lard” in the description.
WHAT MAKES CHEESE GO BLUE?
Cheese can be intentionally blue - cheeses such as Stilton have added blue mould spores within the body of the cheese. These moulds help to break the cheese down, and in the process they give it a stronger flavour and distinctive appearance. Sometimes other cheeses unintentionally develop blue mould. Air can penetrate the cheese through the rind, allowing naturally-occurring mould spores to grow. There is no danger in eating blue which has developed in this way, just as there is no danger in eating blue cheese. We encourage our customers to taste the cheese and see what appeals to them on a case-by-case basis.
MY HARD CHEESE HAS BLUE VEIN IN IT - IS IT SAFE (AND GOOD) TO EAT?
Unlike cheeses that are aged in wax or vacuum packs, clothbound and natural-rind cheeses have permeable rinds, which allow oxygen exchange into and out of the cheese. One side-effect of this is that, if the cheese is bumped during turning or has natural crevasses within it, moulds can sometimes grow inside them. Whether or not this is advantageous depends on the nature of the mould growth: brown or grey moulds, or a ‘bruised’ appearance within the paste, are unattractive and not good to eat; on the other hand a streak of bright blue through a Cheddar or Cheshire adds complexity and was once a prized addition to the cheese (known as ‘Vinny Cheddar’ or ‘Green Fade’).
Our packing team has received guidance on the acceptable level of veining in cheeses that can be sent out to customers, but if you’re in any doubt, please send us a picture — if something has slipped through the net that is not up to standard, we’ll be delighted to replace it for you.
ARE ALL YOUR CHEESES ORGANIC?
No. We do sell some cheeses which happen to be organic, but it is not the only thing we look for when deciding to work with a cheesemaker. Visit “What does Neal’s Yard Dairy look for in cheese?” to find out more.
CAN I EAT CHEESE IF I’M PREGNANT?
Neal’s Yard Dairy does not offer medical advice on cheese and pregnancy: we can, however, share with our customers what we know about cheese.
Women can still eat cheese during pregnancy, but should avoid soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses, which may contain Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium causing Listeriosis. Listeria does not occur naturally in milk or cheese; instead, its presence indicates contamination of either the raw material (milk) or environment (cheesemaking equipment or ripening areas). We take all due care to ensure our cheeses meet uncompromising safety standards so as to minimise this risk. For a list of cheeses we would recommend please see our cheese and pregnancy page.
CAN I EAT THE RIND?
When assessing if you can eat cheese rind, there are two things to consider. Firstly is it an edible rind? Some cheeses have rinds that are not edible, so you definitely shouldn’t attempt to eat these! Both wax and a food grade plastic coating, “plasticote”, are often used to seal the outside of cheeses. Of the cheeses we sell, plasticote is used on Berkswell, Coolea and Lincolnshire Poacher. For clothbound cheese, the fabric needs to be stripped off (your cheesemonger will generally do this before cutting your cheese).
The second consideration is does it taste nice? As a general rule: dusty coloured brown and grey moulds do not have a strong flavour, they tend to be mushroomy or earthy. Blue or white moulds often taste good (assuming you like the taste of blue mould of course). Anything that’s an odd colour could taste bitter, so go carefully. Provided you like the taste, eat as much as you like! If you’d like to learn more here is a great visual guide to the microbiology of natural rind cheeses.
WHY DO YOU SELL SOME CONTINENTAL CHEESES WHEN THERE ARE BRITISH VERSIONS AVAILABLE?
We have long standing relationships with these producers, and we would miss these cheeses if we stopped stocking them. In the case of the Parmesan, for over 15 years we have worked very closely with Giorgio Cravero, the Italian cheese maturer we buy it from. We feel that selling it is consistent with our principles around selecting the best quality cheese available. We have yet to find a British Parmesan style cheese quite like it. Likewise with the Mozzarella and Feta we sell, we feel that these are still the best available examples of these cheeses.
WHY ISN'T MY QUESTION ANSWERED HERE?
The world of cheese and the interests of our customers are constantly changing and evolving. If you have a question about cheese or cheesemaking that isn’t covered here, please drop us a line via our contact us page.
Maturation & Storage
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY MATURING?
When we talk about our job of maturing, we are referring to all of the work involved in the ageing and maturing process, so that we ensure that we sell each cheese when it is at its best. It is during this period of time that flavour and texture development take place. Each cheese has a set of unique requirements for temperature, humidity, and treatments (such as washing, brushing, or turning) that, combined, will ensure its proper development.
Ageing and maturing of cheese is not a precise science. The animal, the feed, the quality of the milk, minute elements of the cheesemaking process and the season all have an influence on the cheese. The skill of the cheese maturer is to be able to adapt their techniques and methods to the cheeses they have before them. This knowledge comes with time and experience. Our aim is to work with the cheese before us to allow the quality of the milk and the expertise of the cheesemaker to shine.
IS OLDER CHEESE BETTER?
Not necessarily. Cheesemakers typically follow a make method with a particular age profile in mind. For example, a traditionally sized Stilton is typically intended to be eaten at sixteen weeks, whilst a Brie style cheese like Baron Bigod is typically eaten at 6 weeks. Excessive age can result in a decrease in general eating quality due to:
- Production of ammonia (particularly in soft cheeses).
- Development of leathery, thick, or dried-out rinds
- Dry, waxy, or crumbly textures associated with excessive desiccation
- Accentuation of salty flavours
- Unwanted external mould growth
- Internal mould growth, mite damage, and blueing in non-blue cheese
We taste our batches of cheese regularly to ensure we are selling them at their best. In so far as possible the cheese we sell is ready to eat when we sell it.
WHAT ARE CHEESE MITES?
Cheese mites are microorganisms that exist everywhere, but they especially love the damp, cool atmosphere found in cheese maturing facilities. Cheese mites are so tiny that the naked eye can’t usually spot them. Their presence is detected by very fine brownish dust on the surface of a wheel of cheese. Much like household dust, the dust on the surface of a cheese is made up of an accumulation of cheese debris, living and dead cheese mites and cheese that has been digested by the mites. It sounds unappetising but is really quite harmless. Mites are present in all different types of dry goods, like grains and flours, without causing direct harm to humans. Cheese mites tend to be noticeably present on the outside of hard, long maturing cheeses, such as Cheddar. Part of our job as cheese maturers is to identify when cheese mites are present in excessive quantities and brush them off. This can be done without affecting the flavour of the cheese inside.
HOW SHOULD I STORE MY CHEESE?
Farmhouse cheese is handmade and thus varies with each day’s production and changes as it matures. As such it is necessary to apply a common sense approach to cheese care and respond to the cheese you have in front of you, as opposed to following rigid guidelines.
We sell our cheese wrapped in waxed cheese paper, which achieves the best possible balance between maintaining humidity around the cheese and allowing it to breathe. We are happy to provide some extra cheese paper, you can add some to your basket by clicking here. If you wrap your cheese in cling film or foil, it can cause the cheese to sweat which will negatively affect the flavour.
Cut pieces of cheese should be kept in the refrigerator to slow the growth of mould on their cut surfaces. However, it is important to be aware that refrigerated cheese is more likely to dry out, particularly if it is not wrapped.
The best option is to keep the cheese wrapped in its waxed paper within a box in the fridge. The container will help to prevent the cheese from drying out and prevent the cheese from absorbing flavours.
HOW SHOULD I STORE WHOLE CHEESES AT HOME?
If you are buying whole cheeses, such as Stilton they may be too large to fit in your fridge. In winter, these conditions can be improvised by keeping your cheese in a cellar or cool room. You must be aware that when stored out of the refrigerator, your cheese will develop more quickly. This can make for more rounded flavours; however, you will need to check it regularly to see how it is behaving. If you are keeping it too warm the cheese will change. It may sweat, feel pappy, gases may develop inside it and it will have a considerably stronger smell.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE MY CHEESE OUT OF THE FRIDGE BEFORE SERVING?
It is very important not to serve your cheese when it’s too cold as cold cheese can taste bland and inert. As a general rule of thumb you should bring it out of the fridge a few hours before you plan to serve it. You should keep your cheese wrapped whilst it is coming up to room temperature, to avoid any risk of it drying out. If it is especially warm you should reduce the amount of time the cheese is out of the fridge accordingly.
HOW LONG WILL MY CHEESE LAST?
There are an array of factors which affect how long cheese will last, and so it is difficult to give a prescriptive answer without knowing which cheese you have,what size the piece is and what storage method you are using.
We do not label cheeses in our shops with best before dates as, for the most part, we expect these cheeses to be eaten within the next week or two. If you need your cheese to last, buy larger pieces as these last for longer. Buy it as close to when you want to serve it as possible (although if you are having your cheese delivered, also remember to allow for a few days leeway in case of delivery disruption).
If you have a specific shelf life concern, you are always welcome to contact us and we will advise as best we can.
Ordering & Delivery
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE SHOULD I ORDER?
You can order online up to one year in advance and choose the day you’d prefer your cheese to arrive. We typically cut cheese to order on the day of dispatch to ensure that it is as fresh as possible when it arrives with you. Typically we accept orders for next day delivery up to 12 midday the day before, although during peak times lead times can extend to up to 48 hours prior to delivery.
If you are ordering cheese for delivery for a special occasion, be sure to select a preferred delivery date a day or two in advance of your event in case of courier delays. For example, if your event is over the weekend, it is best to choose Wednesday or Thursday as the preferred delivery day.
HOW MUCH CHEESE TO BUY?
It can sometimes be hard to know how much cheese to buy. If you are at all unsure please give us a call for some advice. As a general rule of thumb, we would recommend roughly between 100 and 150 grams per person for after dinner, and a bit more if cheese is the focus of the meal.
If you are buying cheese to serve over a couple of days or as part of a buffet, it is advisable to buy a few larger pieces. This will both look better and keep better than many small bits.
To help visualise weights, a good tip is to consider that a regular supermarket pat of butter weighs between 200 and 250 grams.
CAN I CHOOSE WHEN I WANT MY CHEESE TO ARRIVE?
You can select your preferred delivery day at the checkout stage. You can choose between standard delivery (your cheese could arrive any time 7.30am and 7.30pm) and before 12pm delivery (your cheese could arrive from 7.30am to midday). If you provide us with a mobile phone number you will get a text notification on the delivery day, giving you a one hour window for when the cheese ought to arrive.
As we use third party couriers (typically DPD) we unfortunately cannot guarantee the arrival day of your order. Depending on the distance from London, we dispatch orders one to two days prior to your preferred delivery day. We assure you that we will do our best to ensure that it arrives as close to your preferred delivery day as possible.
IS THERE A DELIVERY CHARGE?
Yes. What you pay depends on what you order.
- Standard delivery costs £6.
- Standard delivery is free for orders over £60.
- Before 12 midday delivery is £9, and is possible for addresses in England, Wales and most of Scotland. This service is £3 for orders between £60 and £150, and free for orders over £150.
There are a number of areas which are a bit further away from London and take longer for our couriers to get to. For most addresses we still offer a standard next day delivery, but this can sometimes extend to two days. Unfortunately we're unable to offer a pre-12 midday service to these areas.
More information on our delivery charges and service levels can be found here.
IS THERE A MINIMUM ORDER VALUE?
No. We don’t have a minimum order value. We do ask that you bear in mind the amount of packaging generated to send items either via courier or to our shops for collection. Whilst it's great to order little and often, we do like to operate in a sustainable way and we’d like your help to achieve this.
WHAT IS YOUR PACKAGING LIKE?
We send our online shop orders in one of our brown cardboard gift boxes. The cheese within will be cushioned and insulated with Woolcool liners and Opus Bio biodegradable cushions, and perhaps some ice packs when needed. When orders are especially large (e.g. for weddings and large parties), we send them in a more industrial sized cardboard box which also has our logo on it.
CAN I PLACE AN ORDER FOR DELIVERY OUTSIDE THE UK?
We want our cheese to be enjoyed at it’s best. We simply haven’t found a way yet to ensure that small cut pieces of cheese survive the transit times involved in domestic deliveries overseas. We do export our cheese extensively, so hopefully you can find a stockist near you. You can ask at your local cheese shop or deli, or feel free to drop us a line via our contact us page. Be sure to let us know the specifics of where you’d like to buy our cheese from, and we’ll be happy to pass on details of the nearest stockists to you.
HOW DO I AMEND AN ORDER I HAVE ALREADY PLACED?
If you need to amend your order, please call us on +44 (0)20 7500 7520. Typically we are happy to help you to amend your order up to 48 hours prior to dispatch. We may need to extend this during peak times.
WHAT'S THE CUT OFF FOR NEXT DAY DELIVERY OR COLLECTION?
The cut off for next day delivery or collection is typically midday the previous day. Due to the volumes of orders we have at Christmas time, we tend to extend this to 48 hours prior during this busy period.
DO I NEED TO BE AT HOME FOR THE DELIVERY?
No. The courier will send you a notification via email and text once your parcel has gone on the van for delivery. This will also contain a number of options which you can use if you find out you are not due to be in to receive the delivery. You can read more about these options in the “How do DPD options work?” section below.
HOW DO I TRACK MY ORDER?
You will receive a tracking number from the courier once your order goes out for delivery. This will come to you via email and text message, typically in the morning of the day you have said you’d prefer the cheese to arrive. From there you will be able to see a one hour window for when the driver is expected to deliver. One of the simplest ways to track your delivery is via the DPD app.
If you have any problems with tracking you order, do not hesitate to contact us.
CAN I TRACK MY ORDER IF I DON'T HAVE THE DPD APP?
- Visit dpd.co.uk and enter your parcel number in the tracking area, or click on the link you received via email or text. If you have not received a tracking number, please call us on +44 (0)20 7500 7520.
- You will see a notification letting you know the one-hour time slot in which your cheese should arrive.
- If you aren’t going to be in, enter your postcode to see the available options.
- A range of options specific to your address then appears.
Please see “how do DPD in flight options work?” for our guide to which options are best for cheese.
HOW DO DPD OPTIONS WORK?
The range of DPD options available to you is specific to your delivery address. Not all the options mentioned here are available nationwide. As we are sending cheese, a perishable item, we consider the options listed as 1, 2 and 3 below as the most suitable for our products. Please note that all of these options are actionable after the cheese has left us. If you have any questions or issues with your delivery, it is best to contact us as a first point of call. We cannot take responsibility for any changes you may make to your delivery address or date through the DPD app, as these changes automatically cause delays.
1. If you choose “deliver to a safe place” you will need to specify the safe place and leave delivery instructions for the driver. You will need to accept full responsibility for parcels that are left in the safe place. In most instances the parcel will be left in the safe place on the scheduled delivery day. If you suggest a safe place which the driver deems to be unsafe (e.g. on a doorstep on a busy high street) or which is difficult to understand (e.g. hide behind the folly) they may reject your instructions and attempt to deliver the following day.
2. If you choose to have your cheese delivered to your neighbour, you will need to choose the specific neighbour from an address dropdown. If your preferred neighbour’s address is not listed, it is considered too far away for DPD to drop to. Delivery to your neighbour usually happens on the same day as the delivery was initially scheduled for, but this is not guaranteed.
3. If you choose to have your cheese redelivered to a pickup shop, the cheese will go back to the depot, and be sent to the shop for pick up the following day. If your chosen pickup shop is full, your order may be taken to an alternative pickup shop further away. We advise you to keep this in mind when making this change.
4. If you change the delivery day the cheese will be held by DPD (in a warehouse) until the delivery day that you have chosen. We strongly advise customers against choosing this option.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY BOX HASN’T ARRIVED?
The first thing to do is to check your order tracking information to see where your order is and if there is an issue. If you haven’t received your tracking information, or if there is a message or status update that you don’t fully understand, please call us straight away on +44 (0)20 7500 7520. We’ll be happy to follow up with the courier on your behalf.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN THE DELIVERY ARRIVES?
It may sound obvious, but the most important thing to do is to unpack the box! You need to check that everything has arrived safely, as you expected, and that none of the cheeses have been damaged in transit. If there are any issues, please contact us as soon as possible. If all is well, pop your cheese in the fridge until a few hours before you are ready to serve it.
About Neal's Yard Dairy
WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY OBJECTIVE?
Our company objective is to improve British and Irish cheese. Our pushing to be better will bring British and Irish cheese with us. We believe our actions have the potential to have a wide ranging positive influence over the type and quality of cheese made here, people’s desire to produce, sell and buy cheese, the regulatory environment, industry standards and indeed the financial strength and sustainability of our company.
WHAT IS OPEN BOOK MANAGEMENT?
We use Open Book Management to run our business. This is a bit of a radical approach, in which every member of staff shares responsibility for running the company. We give our staff access to all of the numbers and metrics we use to measure performance - sales, overheads, staff cost, food cost, cheese quality, service to our customers, service to each other - the lot! Along with this access comes responsibility. Our approach is participatory, not parental. It is about empowering every single employee in our business with the tools, education and data they need to act like owners. We think this leads to better decision making, improved career satisfaction, more collaboration and more accountability. Ultimately this helps us in our mission to improve British and Irish cheese.
ARE YOU PART OF THE OTHER NEAL'S YARD COMPANIES?
Neal’s Yard is a little alleyway in Covent Garden. Whilst we all share the origin of being part of the group of businesses founded by Nicholas Saunders in Neal’s Yard, we are no longer affiliated with any of the other companies that bear the “Neal’s Yard” name. You can read more about the history of Neal’s Yard here.
WHY ISN'T MY QUESTION ANSWERED HERE?
The world of cheese and the interests of our customers are constantly changing and evolving. If you have a question about Neal’s Yard Dairy that isn’t covered here, please drop us a line via our contact us page.