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Amy, behind the counter at our Borough shop which she manages.

Our Work

The work we do at Neal’s Yard Dairy extends beyond that of most cheesemongers. The journey starts with our cheesemakers turning their milk into cheese and ends, often many months later, with those cheeses being enjoyed by our customers. Cheese is in a constant state of flux, so along the way we make a series of choices and interventions designed to ensure that every product that crosses our counter or ships from our maturation facility is in the ideal condition for the person waiting expectantly to receive it.

SELECTION
MATURATION
OUR SHOPS
WHOLESALE

Selection

At Neal’s Yard Dairy, our ambition is to sell the British and Irish cheeses we like best. That means identifying interesting, characterful or authentic varieties, but it also means selecting the individual cheeses that we want to sell. Some of our cheesemakers are making the same cheese almost every day, so in any given years, as many as 350 'vintages' may emerge from the dairy, each of which will differ slightly in character. Some will meet our exacting standards, others won’t. O...

At Neal’s Yard Dairy, our ambition is to sell the British and Irish cheeses we like best. That means identifying interesting, characterful or authentic varieties, but it also means selecting the individual cheeses that we want to sell. Some of our cheesemakers are making the same cheese almost every day, so in any given years, as many as 350 'vintages' may emerge from the dairy, each of which will differ slightly in character. Some will meet our exacting standards, others won’t. Only very rarely would we take more than half of a cheesemaker’s annual output. This means that our standards are never compromised – we want only the cheeses we like the best. 

The importance of getting the selection right is made even more acute by the time and resource that goes into maturing our cheeses. Discovering after several months of effort that a particular day’s production doesn’t meet our needs would be extremely wasteful, which is why identifying the profile of a cheese when it is young is so crucial. When we select a cheese, we are judging not just how it appears right there in the moment, but how it will evolve through every stage of its maturation, over the weeks, months or even years to come. 

We visit each cheesemaker on a regular basis to sample their cheeses with them and select which ones we want to buy, employing our full range of senses to determine those that are best for us. First we smell the cheese. Then we may briefly knead it between the fingers to look for clues in texture and structure. If it’s a little too dry at a young age, it may break down as it ages; if it’s too wet, the maturation process may prove problematic. As we rub it with our fingers, the cheese warms up, releasing its aroma and bringing the flavours to life. Only then do we taste it. We judge its acidity, the length, strength and character of it flavours. We do the same thing again and again, often differentiating between numerous different vintages all made in the same month.

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Maturation

Cheese changes as it gets older. This is due to the interactions between the fat, protein, moisture, bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, moulds and salt within the cheese. These interactions can be influenced by the conditions in which the cheese is kept and by the actions performed upon the surface of the cheese.  At each stage of its life, the cheese requires different conditions and treatment. How often we intervene depends upon the cheese – because of their high moisture content, soft c...

Cheese changes as it gets older. This is due to the interactions between the fat, protein, moisture, bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, moulds and salt within the cheese. These interactions can be influenced by the conditions in which the cheese is kept and by the actions performed upon the surface of the cheese. 

At each stage of its life, the cheese requires different conditions and treatment. How often we intervene depends upon the cheese – because of their high moisture content, soft cheeses change more quickly than hard cheeses and require more day-to-day decision making and handling. It is the work of the maturer to decide when these interventions need to happen and to provide the necessary conditions. When the time is judged to be right, the cheese needs to be packaged and sold, but maturing only ends when the cheese is eaten, so conditions still need to be managed once the cheese has left the control of the maturer.

All of this takes considerable skill and experience. In the life of a cheese, there are numerous stages at which decisions need to be made, and at each of these stages there are several options available, and if a wrong turn is taken the result can be disastrous. It is often said that it is almost impossible to make a bad cheese good by maturing, but all too easy to ruin a good one.

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Conditions

Maturing cheese requires us to create conditions that encourage the development of desired bacteria and facilitate the process of ripening. Temperature and relative humidity (RH) have a significant impact on the maturing process: low temperatures tend to slow down maturing, while high temperatures accelerate it; low relative humidity can retard rind growth and dry the cheese, while high relative humidity can encourage rind growth and prevent the cheese from drying out. Warm and humid conditio...

Maturing cheese requires us to create conditions that encourage the development of desired bacteria and facilitate the process of ripening. Temperature and relative humidity (RH) have a significant impact on the maturing process: low temperatures tend to slow down maturing, while high temperatures accelerate it; low relative humidity can retard rind growth and dry the cheese, while high relative humidity can encourage rind growth and prevent the cheese from drying out.

Warm and humid conditions (as high as 20C and up to 100% RH) promote the early stages of rind growth. In these conditions, the correct yeasts, moulds and bacteria – such as geotrichum, various types of penicillium, and the very wide array of microbes involved in washed rinds – are favoured, and undesirable microbes are outcompeted. 

Once the rind is established, it is likely that the temperature and humidity will be lowered (as low as 2C and 50% RH, but more normally 8-12C and 80-100% RH, depending on the type of cheese) to prevent the rind from developing too quickly. 

A supply of fresh air is important as without it by-products such as carbon dioxide and ammonia can build up. Too much of these may make the cheese damp and damage the rind, taint the atmosphere to the extent that the flavour is affected and even, in the case of ammonia, affect the speed of maturation.

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Drying

Particularly in the early stages of maturing, a soft cheese may need to be dried. Excessive moisture will allow too much microbial activity and the cheese will ripen too quickly, meaning that off flavours may develop. High temperatures of 15C and above, along with vigorous refrigeration and exaggerated airflow, provide the most aggressive drying conditions. Cheese needs to be dried with care, however, as it is possible to remove too much moisture.

Particularly in the early stages of maturing, a soft cheese may need to be dried. Excessive moisture will allow too much microbial activity and the cheese will ripen too quickly, meaning that off flavours may develop. High temperatures of 15C and above, along with vigorous refrigeration and exaggerated airflow, provide the most aggressive drying conditions. Cheese needs to be dried with care, however, as it is possible to remove too much moisture.

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Turning

Every cheese needs to be turned throughout its life. If a cheese isn’t turned, moisture sinks to the lower surface, making it soft and wet. The rind will form patchily on exposed surfaces and, on the underside, not at all. If left long enough, the cheese will distort, disintegrate and – eventually – rot. The younger, softer and more full of moisture the cheese is, the more frequently it must be turned.

Every cheese needs to be turned throughout its life. If a cheese isn’t turned, moisture sinks to the lower surface, making it soft and wet. The rind will form patchily on exposed surfaces and, on the underside, not at all. If left long enough, the cheese will distort, disintegrate and – eventually – rot. The younger, softer and more full of moisture the cheese is, the more frequently it must be turned.

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Patting, rubbing and cleaning

If left to its own devices, the bloomy rind of some cheeses will grow excessively, becoming thick, cardboardy and unpleasant. This traps moisture inside the cheese, which will have a negative impact on texture and flavour. The rind of a soft cheese needs to be patted to keep the mould under control, while that of a hard cheese may be patted, brushed or rubbed.  Rubbing the rind also helps get rid of the tiny cheese mites that sometimes feed on the mould of hard cheeses such as cheddar. I...

If left to its own devices, the bloomy rind of some cheeses will grow excessively, becoming thick, cardboardy and unpleasant. This traps moisture inside the cheese, which will have a negative impact on texture and flavour. The rind of a soft cheese needs to be patted to keep the mould under control, while that of a hard cheese may be patted, brushed or rubbed. 

Rubbing the rind also helps get rid of the tiny cheese mites that sometimes feed on the mould of hard cheeses such as cheddar. In small numbers they are essentially harmless, but if allowed to proliferate, they can damage the rind, allow mould growth within the cheese, and cause significant wastage.

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Washing

Washing the rind of a soft cheese – usually with water or brine – will completely change its character. Unwashed, it will develop a bloomy or yeasty natural rind. When washed, any visible mould that is starting to grow will be washed off and the pH on the surface of the cheese will rise towards neutral, making the environment more hospitable to the required yeasts and bacteria. Their presence will raise the pH further, making a major contribution to the ripening of the cheese. Wit...

Washing the rind of a soft cheese – usually with water or brine – will completely change its character. Unwashed, it will develop a bloomy or yeasty natural rind. When washed, any visible mould that is starting to grow will be washed off and the pH on the surface of the cheese will rise towards neutral, making the environment more hospitable to the required yeasts and bacteria. Their presence will raise the pH further, making a major contribution to the ripening of the cheese. With repeated washes, this effect is exaggerated. Soon the cheese changes colour, usually to a pinkish orange, and the rind can become sticky and pungent. Often, although the rind may be smelly, the paste underneath – which, as with other soft cheeses, breaks down and softens as it matures – will remain gentle. Sometimes, however, powerful flavours develop.

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Our Shops

Neal’s Yard Dairy started out as a microdairy in Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden in the heart of London. The dairy products made there included yoghurt, creme fraiche, icecream and cheeses, which were sold directly to the public from that location. Despite the many other activities that we’re involved in today, selling directly to the public remains at the heart of our operation. We have three shops in London – one in Shorts Gardens (close our original Neal’s Yard l...

Neal’s Yard Dairy started out as a microdairy in Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden in the heart of London. The dairy products made there included yoghurt, creme fraiche, icecream and cheeses, which were sold directly to the public from that location. Despite the many other activities that we’re involved in today, selling directly to the public remains at the heart of our operation.

We have three shops in London – one in Shorts Gardens (close our original Neal’s Yard location), one in Borough Market and one next to our maturing facility in Bermondsey. The people who staff the shops are not just servers but trained and knowledgeable cheesemongers whose role it is to help you find the cheeses you will enjoy the most. We want the experience of shopping with us to be as friendly and accessible as possible, and we are as welcoming to those who know very little about cheese as we are to the true fanatics. 

Because our approach to selecting and maturing cheese prioritises flavour above all else, we understand how essential it is that our customers have the chance to taste the cheeses before they buy them. Because no two batches are the same, our cheesemongers will taste each one too, and we encourage even those customers who have bought a cheese many times before to try a sample every time they visit. 

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Tasting cheese with customers at our Borough shop.

One of our regular wholesale open days, held at our Bermondsey site, where our wholesale customers; restaurants, food shops, delis, meet the cheesemakers.

Wholesale

Neal’s Yard Dairy’s wholesale operation sells cheese to food businesses throughout the UK, as well as exporting to wholesale customers around the world. Because our cheeses vary from batch to batch and from day to day, it is essential that we work to understand the specific needs of each customer and communicate this variability to them. Our aim is to ensure that the right cheeses arrive with the right customer in the right condition. For this reason, our sales teams are based in ...

Neal’s Yard Dairy’s wholesale operation sells cheese to food businesses throughout the UK, as well as exporting to wholesale customers around the world.

Because our cheeses vary from batch to batch and from day to day, it is essential that we work to understand the specific needs of each customer and communicate this variability to them. Our aim is to ensure that the right cheeses arrive with the right customer in the right condition.

For this reason, our sales teams are based in Bermondsey alongside our cheese maturing rooms. This allows our sales teams to have daily interactions with our maturation team. Together they spend time tasting cheeses for the weeks ahead and allocating specific batches to our customers.

As part of the service we extend to our wholesale customers, we can lead visits to our maturing facility. We can also visit our customers and host in-house training to advise on how best to taste, talk about, interact with and care for our cheeses within your business.

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