I was lucky enough to have been asked by Quicke’s Cheese if I would like to be involved in the process of making some of their wonderful cheddar cheese. Of course I jumped at the chance! Who wouldn’t?
I caught a bus out to the farm to be ready to start at 7am! An early start but totally worth it. I witnessed the complete process of cheese making from start to finish. I also managed to prepare some truckles at the end of it all. It’s just such a shame that I will have to wait about a year for it to mature before I can taste it!
Here is a little insight into how the cheddar cheese is made at Quicke’s. For me it has opened my eyes and made me appreciate their wonderful cheeses more than I ever did before. I put on my white wellies, white jacket, blue hair net and into the dairy I went.
The 500 cows in Quicke’s herd are milked twice a day and the fresh milk is taken a few meters away to the cheese dairy. The milk is pasteurised (heated to 72 degrees for 15 seconds) and then cooled quickly ready for the cheese making process.
Traditional starters are added to the milk to increase the acidity and develop the flavour of the milk. The starters were collected in the 1950’s from the finest cheese dairies and remain unchanged.
From this point rennet is added to the milk. This starts a separation of curds from the whey. The milk starts to thicken and is allowed to set at this point.
Once the milk is at the right consistency it is cut with stainless steel knives into smaller pieces (curds) revealing the (whey) liquid.
The cheese makers pile up the curds at the side of the coolers and the weight of the curds on top of each other drains off even more whey. It’s at this point the curds are cut into blocks and turned by hand. The cheese makers pile the blocks up at one side of the vat. The top blocks push down on the blocks below and they become flatter and more dense. This is the “cheddaring” process. Hand cheddaring is the main distinction for farmhouse cheddar.
Once the curds have been cheddared they are put in the milling machine. The milling machine breaks the curds into smaller pieces so it can fit into the cheese moulds. Whilst the milling process is taking place the curds are salted by hand. It is very important the salt is distributed evenly. Failure to do this can result in “salt spots” which are very bad for the cheese.
The curds are then punched into the muslin lined cheese moulds ready for pressing. Once the cheese moulds are carefully wrapped up they are placed into a cheese press. The pressing process releases more liquid to give the cheddar a smoother texture. They spend three days being pressed. Once pressed they are dated and taken to the cheese store which is kept at a constant 10 degrees throughout the year. There is an 85% humidity to help the mould garden to develop. The cheeses are placed on traditional wooden racks in the “nursery” store before being moved to the main store that Mary Quicke calls her “cheese cathedral”!
Once the cheeses have reached their full maturity they are cut and sent off to their foodie destinations. I tend to buy mine at The Real Food Store on Paris Street in Exeter but of course it is available in other outlets. You can also purchase it at the farm in their farm shop or online.