28 May 2012

Cheese scholarship at the School of Artisan Food

The more I talk to cheesemakers, the more it seems to me that it’s quite a lonely occupation.

Small artisan producers usually work by themselves or as part of a tiny team, spending all day in small dairies focused intently on things like temperature, milk quality and acidity levels. It’s painstaking work, which takes years to master.

Not surprisingly, a lot of cheesemakers find it hard to get the time for their own professional development. They’re too busy up to their arms in curds to go on courses, learn new skills and network.

This is one of the reasons why a new training scheme has been launched, which is offering two scholarship opportunities to budding cheesemakers.

The scheme is offering two Artisan Cheese Maker Scholarships: a Professional Hard Cheesemaking Course at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire (pictured) and a Soft Cheese course at AB Cheesemaking in Cheshire.

It’s been set by Jaap de Jonge, a Dutchman who is a bit of a hero in the artisan cheese world. He runs a company called Jongia, which supplies cheese ingredients and equipment. He also takes cheesemakers on tours of each others’ dairies and has recently launched an annual cheese conference. If you’re interested in making cheese at home, he also has some nice home cheese kits.

Applications for the scholarship must be submitted 31 December 2012. You can learn more about them and download an entry form here.

24 May 2012

A cheese course for the Brighton Food Society

The past few months have seen me working on a new project with fellow food and drink writers in Brighton. Together we've set up something called The Brighton Food Society, which is loosely based on the 'sociedades gastronmicas' or 'txokos' in the Basque Country.

In Spain, these are male-only societies that gather in club houses to cook for friends and family, celebrating the Basque region's fantastic ingredients. Ours is a little different int that we're open to men and women, and our core founding members are all food and drink writers, broadcasters and bloggers.

Our four-course launch meal, celebrating Sussex produce, was held earlier this month with a 35-strong guest list, including other food writers, chefs and food producers. There's more on the night here.

As well as the dessert, the job of sorting the cheese course naturally fell into my lap. This is pretty ironic considering I used to be a bit sniffy about Sussex cheeses. Luckily, I recently did something of a volte face on the whole subject and am now rather proud of the cheeses made in this part of the world.

Anyway, working with Hove-based cheesemonger La Cave a Fromage, we came up with a pretty awesome selection of the best Sussex has to offer. We served 2.5kg of cheese for 35 people, which worked out at about 70g of cheese each. It doesn't sound a lot, but when you're eating good cheese with complex flavours, a little goes a long way. Here's what we went for:

Golden Cross (Greenacres Farm, Whitchurch). An unpasteurised St Maure-style goat's cheese that is rolled in charcoal. Has a tart, lemony centre and a creamy layer just under the rind. One of Britain's great goat's cheeses.

Mayfield (Alsop & Walker, Mayfield). A pasteurised cow's milk cheeses that is part Gruyere, part Emmental with large holes. Quite a rubbery texture with sweet caramel and fruit notes, and a nutty finish.

Burwash Rose (The Traditional Cheese Dairy, Stonegate). A rich creamy pasteurised cow's milk cheese, which is washed in rose water to give it a perfumed, floral flavour.
Sussex Blue  (Alsop & Walker, Mayfield). Sussex isn't blessed with a huge range of blue cheeses, but this one is a decent enough option. It's quite a mellow cheese with only very slight blueing, which gives a touch of spice, but nothing too powerful.

There are things I would do differently next time.  A really hard cheese would have added more contrast in terms of texture and perhaps I should have included a sheep's milk cheese.

I should definitely have made more effort with the accompaniments. I served the cheese with apples, pears and some pretty basic crackers. That would have been a severe let down if it wasn't for some ace homemade plum chutney from fellow Society member Sam Bilton and oat biscuits that were brought at the last minute by Brighton's supper club queen Tina Horvath.
I'm already scheming for the next event, but what do you think are the crucial elements to the ultimate cheese board? And what local cheeses would you choose?

14 May 2012


One of my more interesting cheese finds of recent weeks came at the Neal's Yard tasting I attended last month. The first cheese of the evening was a pale yellow, crumbly little number called Cotherstone, which I had never heard of before even though it's far from being a new cheese.

Joan Cross has been making Cotherstone to a recipe handed down from her mother for over 30 years. Initially she made it in her kitchen in Barnard Castle, County Durham, leaving the milk to sour naturally in a big milk churn. Things have moved on a bit since then, but she still makes it in very small batches at Quarry Farm. Such small scale production, combined with the fact that she is the last remaining producer of this type of cheese, helps explain why I hadn't come across Cotherstone before. This is a very rare cheese.

It's made with pasteurised cow's milk and is a bit like a Wensleydale in that its moist and crumbly with a lemony tang. But the piece that I had also had a creamy layer just under the rind that had broken down and was much softer with a rich mushroomy flavour.

According to Neal's Yard, Cotherstone is technically not very complicated to make: “Basically the milk is soured, set, milled and moulded.” These kinds of fresh crumbly cheeses, sometimes known as Dales-style cheeses, are associated with the rugged landscapes of Yorkshire and the North East where it was traditionally hard to farm large herds of cattle. 

Farmers would only make small amounts of cheese at home to feed their family and perhaps have a bit left over to sell at market, so they tended to be simple to make and eaten when they were young. There's more on the history of Cotherstone here.

How to eat: Nice with a slice of Parkin cake.

What to drink: We had it with a Belgian ale called Saison Dupont, which had a bit of zesty fruitiness going on. Good beer.

8 May 2012

Gorwydd Caerphilly: true to its roots

It all started with a caravan and a field full of llamas. That was back in 1995 when fresh faced archaeology graduate Todd Trethowan first learned how to make Caerphilly during an apprenticeship with the late Chris Duckett in Somerset.

As well as being a third generation cheesemaker and one of the last farmhouse Caerphilly makers in the country, Duckett was was also a keen llama enthusiast with a field full of the beasts, which is where the young Trethowan ended up staying.

“I worked for him for six months, living in my caravan surrounded my llamas. I didn't have a car so every time I had to go to the dairy I had to take my chances,” laughs Trethowan. “I used to come back from the pub at night and they certainly weren't the friendliest. They are pretty aggressive animals!”

Trethowan was hardly a cheese novice when he arrived at Duckett's. Before going to univeristy, he had worked for Neal's Yard in London and had paid his way through college by working for cheesemakers such as Dougal Campbell at Tyn Grug and Charlie Westhead at Neal's Yard Creamy. But it was his time with Duckett that really laid the foundations for Trethowan to set up his own dairy at the family farm in Ceredigion, West Wales, which is where he still makes his unpasteurised Gorwydd Caerphilly today. Duckett sadly passed away in 2009, but his cheese is still made at Westcombe Dairy.

“I learned absolutely everything from Chris. Every night I would come back to my caravan with a big list of all the things I'd learned that day. I really made the most of my time there and I've tried to be faithful to what he taught me.”

Todd Trethowan: 'People told us not to make Caerphilly'

Sixteen years later and Trethowan says he is still learning, which is partly why the company continues to only make Gorwydd Caerphilly. “I don't feel like we'll ever have it beaten. If we made loads of cheeses we might take our finger off the pulse and the cheese might go off the boil. We've always been a very consistent cheese and I think we're getting better.”

Run by Trethowan and his wife Jess in partnership with his brother Maugan and his wife Kim (who used to work for Neal's Yard Dairy), Trethowan's Dairy makes around forty of the four kilo cheeses each day. These are dry salted in their moulds and then brined, before being matured for around two months.

The final cheese has a velvety grey rind and two-tone interior, comprising a creamy outer layer called 'the breakdown' and a firm but moist centre layer. Each element adds a different flavour with lemony notes from the central stripe, creamy mushroomy flavours from the breakdown and an earthiness from the rind itself.

Gorwydd follows in the tradition on the original farmhouse cheeses that were popular with Welsh miners, who legend has it ate the cheese to replace the salt they had lost through sweating. It's a million miles away from the crumbly block Caerphilly on supermarket shelves that is almost indistinguishable from factory-made Cheshire and Lancashire.

“There's no comparison between a block Caerphilly and us, but it was something to overcome when we first started,” says Trethowan. “People told us not to make a Caerphilly and to do something more exotic. When we were at markets people would say, 'Oh, we don't like Caerphilly'. You'd give them a bit and they'd take a taste. Because the flavour doesn't hit you straight away, they'd be walking away and then peel round in a U-shape and come back to you, saying, “What was that again?' We have to do far less convincing these days. People have been won over.”

The company still has market stalls at Borough and St Nicholas in Bristol, where it serves 'the ultimate cheese toastie', made with Keen's cheddar, and raclette using Montgomery's Ogleshield (right). It also attends festivals, including last year's Glastonbury, and runs regular cheese tastings and talks with food and drink writer (and fellow cheese blogger) Fiona Beckett as part of The CheeseSchool. The company's main business, however, is selling through delis, farm shops and cheesemongers, plus Waitrose, as well as at its own own store in Bristol, which opened four years ago.

“We wanted to be one of our biggest customers, but we also have a range of around 15 other cheeses from people we've worked with over the years. It means we can talk about them with some authority because we know how the cheeses are made and how they should taste. Having a small range of cheeses mean we can also sell them in really good nick. As a cheesemaker myself, I feel honour-bound to sell someone else's cheese in brilliant condition. I'd be mortified if I didn't.”


* This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fine Food Digest