How to develop a new cheese – “Hebden Goat” … read all about it.
A couple of years ago, Andy got a visit from Gillian Clough. Gillian loves goats, specifically Anglo Nubian (big floppy eared) goats. Her passion had taken her to breed (and show) some of these lovely animals on her small ten-acre holding near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.
But breeding goats means making milk. Quite a bit of it. So Gillian went on a few courses in order to find a use for this milk. She ended up making a fresh curd cheese called Gāt, the old English name for goat.
Gillian came to chat with us at The Courtyard Dairy and we decided that it would be a good idea to go to see Gillian’s farm, to see if we could maybe help her develop something really special. Anglo Nubian goats are renowned for producing some of the best quality milk in the industry and we thought that with Gillian’s small holding of marginal pastureland it should be possible to make a fabulous unpasteurised Yorkshire goats’ cheese which would really showcase Gillian’s delicious goat milk (Anglo Nubian goats are prized for their extremely rich milk – perfect for cheesemaking).
So we set out to persuade her to develop a cheese that would showcase it!
Visiting the farm we observed at first hand the dedication Gillian and her husband, Tim, show towards achieving maximum quality throughout their farm. Nevertheless, we thought that maybe we could offer a few tips to help them develop their current recipe, spending time tasting different batches of milk and encouraging Gillian to make slight alterations to her recipe including longer acidification, a different pH at moulding, change of her starter bacteria and slight alterations to the Gat cheese make. At the same time we encouraged Gillian to enter the Great Yorkshire Show (where she won ‘Best Raw Milk Cheese’) and apply for the Specialist Cheese Makers Bursary to help her with development of her cheese (which she was awarded).
But it seemed to us that there was more to achieve. Maybe, working together with Gillian and Tim, we could develop a brand-new farmhouse cheese that would be in the style of a aged cheese – a ‘cheese-board’ cheese that would really showcase Yorkshire and Gillian’s farm at its best. The best course seemed to be to follow a traditional lactic-set cheese recipe. This seemed a good choice because the lactic-set cheese-making style is naturally suited to the nature of goats’ milk, like the classic French goats’ cheeses – Crottin and Ste Maure, and would also suit Gillian’s lifestyle. This style of cheese originally developed in France to fit in with smallholdings, because making the cheese is less labour-intensive and it sets slowly over a long time. This allowed the farmer to milk the goats in the morning, and then attend to other farm tasks in the day (such as, in France, looking after the vines) before gently ladling the curds in the evening/next morning into moulds. Much less labour intensive than hard cheese production like Cheddar, etc., which requires you to be working the curd all day.
Gillian’s smallholding is quite small, so she also has a day job. The lactic-set cheese would fit into her routine of getting up, milking her eight goats before going to her work as a Radiography lecturer. The curd is left to do its own thing throughout the day, and next morning the slowly-acidified curd is ladled into moulds.
With this recipe chosen, we also persuaded Gillian to switch to animal rennet (the vegetarian rennet being used was working well, but seemed to lead to bitter flavours in the middle of the maturation of the cheese: these did evolve out, but the animal rennet didn’t have this problem). We experimented with different strains of bacteria and yeasts (imported from France) to get the rind and flavours we wanted in the final cheese.
We then took Gillian and Tim 400 miles to visit Neal’s Yard Creamery, makers of the fabulous goats cheeses Dorstone and Ragstone, so Gillian could pick their brains and get tips onto how to construct a proper drying and ageing room for the new cheese (Hebden Goat). The brilliant thing about Charlie Westhead’s Neal’s Yard Creamery is that everything was constructed to a careful budget – so rather than expensive, purpose-built rooms for drying, making and ageing the cheese, Charlie has used his knowledge and understanding of his cheese to allow him to make use of basic refrigeration, fans, heaters and humidifiers. By careful examination of his cheeses, feeling them, and moving them around appropriately, Charlie uses these basic tools to get the same (if not better!) results than would be achieved by an expensive, purpose-built drying room. This has been a good philosophy, showing what could be achieved at small farmhouse level without the need for massive investment. Learning from this visit, Tim, Gillian’s husband, started constructing their new part of the dairy in early 2016.
It’s taken a long year to finally reach our goal. But now, in May 2016, we are confident that, with a little development help from The Courtyard Dairy, Gillian is producing the quality cheese we were all looking for – Hebden Goat – a delightful small, fresh, lactic goats’ milk cheese with a natural rind. And we’ve persuaded Gillian to double her herd size to eight goats. So that means 30 cheeses a week to go around – not many, but enough for quite a few to enjoy this special Yorkshire treat.
All credit to Gillian and Tim: they’ve developed a fantastic unpasteurised cheese that is a welcome addition to the farmhouse cheese world. And at The Courtyard Dairy, we’re proud to have played our part in the journey to create it.