Joe visits Hafod Cheddar: Sam and Rachel’s quest for the perfect cheese
Economics play a part in any business, of course, and cheese making is no different. To be a sustainable and viable business, Hafod Cheddar needs to be sold at nearly twice the price per kilo of more-industrially-produced cheeses, to cover their costs.
The farm is unable to expand, unfortunately, because of the limits of the land, so the creamery can only produce nine 10kg cheeses a day. In order for people like you and me to want to buy it, the cheese has to be more than a cut above the rest, pretty special. So Patrick’s son Sam and Sam’s wife Rachel strive hard to create a perfect cheese.
Here is a little bit more about them and their cheese-making process.
Both Sam and Rachel worked in London before they quit the rat race to follow their dream. Patrick used to sell his milk to a local pioneering cheese-maker, Dougal Campbell, so when Sam and Rachel started to make cheese on the farm, it made sense to start with Dougal’s recipe. Later, however, Sam and Rachel became inspired by the book ‘Practical Cheddar Cheese Making’ written by Dora Saker in 1917. Saker’s book covers important subjects such as soil types, equipment, recipes and grading cheese; as well as explaining how tweaking the recipe can massively affect the cheese. Thus was born Hafod Cheddar.
The process starts by milking the cows at 4.00 am! What? The only four o’clock I know is in the afternoon. Fortunately, Hafod farm has a dedicated herdsman (who’s previous job by the way was drummer for the rock band ‘The Kooks’: one extreme to another…). The warm milk is piped underground directly from the milking sheds to the creamery. Then the vat is filled with milk and it is slowly heated. Starter culture is added and the curds begin to form.
One of the most notable things about making Hafod cheddar is that it is a ‘slow make’. More time = more flavour + more aromas.
I could detail the long slow acidification and how the curds have an even higher pH at moulding, allowing the cheese time to develop its own complex flavours, but it’d make a pretty steady read. The basic principle is that nothing is rushed: everything has to happen in its own time.
Whilst Sam and Rachel are ‘cheddaring’ the curds (cutting, draining and stacking) most other cheese-makers will already have finished, washed down and probably be relaxing over a pint. But through trial and error, devotion and patience, with no shortcuts, the perfect Hafod cheddar is created.