New Cheesemonger Louise visits Stichelton Dairy
Read how about The Courtyard Dairy’s newest recruit – Louise Pauley went to help make Stichelton cheese earlier this year, and what she loved about the place.
“I’ve decided that making cheese is similar to doing Tai Chi… The people are calm, the environment simple and uncluttered. The moves are deliberate, controlled, rhythmic…quiet. This is the flip-side to the normal hectic, noisy bustle of the Courtyard Dairy where Yorkshire meets Lancashire…well sort of, and us Cheesemongers pass on our knowledge about the amazing cheeses that Andy has chosen for our counter.
This was my first visit to a cheese maker…no pressure…just watch, listen and take it all in.
In the middle of 15,000 acres of beautiful, flat farmland, lies Collingthwaite Farm, the home of Stichelton, a stunning blue cheese produced on the Welbeck Estate, Sherwood Forest, by Joe, Ross and the rest of the team……the people and the cheeses are lovely.
The day goes like clockwork. Last evening’s milk sits patiently in its steam jacketed tank (one half of a pair of tanks, made at the same time about 60 years ago and never parted) waiting for the mornings milk to be added. The slow make starts, the science bits kick in…the blue mould, the starter, the rennet…the miracle of milk turning into curds and whey. After time, the curds are carefully and gently hand ladled (only a few Stilton makers still ‘hand’ do this stage of the process – said to create a softer, better curd) into the second tank lined with cheesecloth, a process that sets it apart from many of its mechanically handled contemporaries. After ‘milling’, the curd being broken up into small pieces, salt is added and mixed with the curd, bowl by bowl, all by hand… It takes a strong back to be a cheese maker!
By filling perforated cylinders with the curds and leaving them to drain naturally, whole Stichelton cheeses are created. Turned every day and kept at around 21 degrees,
the cheeses are left to settle and become firm. When they are ready they are moved on to be ‘rubbed up’, a process not unlike icing a cake. Old fashioned round tipped butter knives are used to soften and spread the outer layer of the cheese, sealing it and preventing the cheese from drying out…I have to say, like icing a cake you can over egg it a bit, you could definitely tell who the professionals were!
On the home straight, the cheeses are transferred into the maturing room where the temperature is around 13 degrees and they are left to develop an interesting pinky, white rind. The final part of the process sees the cheeses put into gadget that looks like something a medieval torturer might use but in fact is a piercing machine that makes 250 holes in each cheese in order for air to get inside and activate the blueing.
Thank you to Joe and all his staff, they were so patient with us, involving us every step of the way. Thank you to Joe again for our quick wiz around the hub of the Welbeck Estate and a potted history of the place. (Check out WJ Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Earl of Portland who shied away from people so dug tunnels under the estate so he could get around without bumping into anyone)
Most of all, thanks for changing my mind about blue cheese…I knew there was more to it than that weird sauce my dad used to make and you could smell for about a month.
Stichelton is creamy, smooth, crumbly, salty and sweet. Try it; you too could be a blue cheese convert.”