The se­cret of crack­ing cheese

If you want to make your own, make sure to use the finest in­gre­di­ents pos­si­ble, says Catalina Stog­don

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Ev­ery­thing starts with the milk. Good cheese can­not be made from bad milk,” says Dud­ley Martin, “so our story be­gins with Ed our herds­man. Fresh from the cow, we take the milk and siphon it into our churns; add cul­tures and ren­nets to form the curds and whey, be­fore salt­ing, greas­ing and stor­ing for over a year for max­i­mum flavour.” Dud­ley takes his cheese very se­ri­ously. And so he should. Along with Paul Bed­ford, they are the cheese men in the food op­er­a­tion at the Lud­low Food Cen­tre in Brom­field, Lud­low, who have 33 years’ com­bined cheese­mak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. They hand-churn their cheeses, in­clud­ing an award­win­ning soft va­ri­ety, Croft Gold, which is doused ev­ery three days in cider brandy, stinks to high heaven and is as packed with as much pun­gent flavour as it is fra­grance. The farm shop, which ex­hib­ited re­cently at the renowned Lud­low Food Fes­ti­val, re­lies on its 180 Hol­stein-Friesian cows which make up their High Wal­ton herd, with each cow pro­duc­ing 25-28 litres a day. The cows are fed on grass for seven months of the year from the mead­ows of the Onny and silage, in­clud­ing brewer’s grain, for the re­main­der, which af­fects its flavour and gives the cheese its sea­son­al­ity. “The qual­ity of the pas­ture, the plants the an­i­mals graze on, even the chem­istry of the soil it­self will have a bear­ing on the com­po­si­tion of the milk,” says Dud­ley. “If we were mak­ing wine, this would be called its ter­roir.” A sum­mer-pro­duced ched­dar will have less fat, a “grassier” taste, and a flakier tex­ture. “Christ­mas ched­dars, when the cows will have eaten more brewer’s yeast in their feed and have higher lev­els of but­ter­fat, will be creamier,” says Dud­ley. His cheeses are al­lowed to ma­ture for 14 months at least; 18 months makes for a vin­tage ched­dar. “A give­away, if ched­dar is prop­erly ma­ture, is that it will have crunch, caused by the crys­tals of cal­cium lac­tate.” A lot of the more com­mer­cial cheese re­lies on a cul­ture to make them sweeter; a tra­di­tional ched­dar has much more tang, bite and acid­ity. “It’s how a cheese like ched­dar should taste,” he says. In the hunt for “real taste” and tra­di­tion, many are now join­ing the grow­ing num­ber of cheese­mak­ing cour­ses, which are spread­ing all over the coun­try, to learn how to make their favourite va­ri­ety at home. The Cheese­mak­ing Workshop, based in Arun­del, takes you through the process of six dif­fer­ent cheeses in a six-hour course, in­clud­ing Camem­bert and Brie, feta and ri­cotta, from work­ing with starter cul­tures to learn­ing about the age­ing process. Mandy Nolan, who learnt to make cheese on a course in Aus­tralia, runs her “very hands-on” course from her home in West Sus­sex, and says that “once you have eaten your own feta, you will never want to buy ready made again”.

Taste test: Dud­ley Martin in his cheese store; Lud­low’s finest cows, top

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