I arrived at Ram Hall just in time to pull on a very long glove and plunge my arm into the partly separated curds and whey for a gentle stir. Cheese making in Berkswell is very hands-on. Powdered lamb’s rennet is added to the warm raw milk, all of which comes from the farm’s flock of 650 Friesland and Friesland-Devon cross ewes. The milk is heated, stirred and cut before Julie and her team mould the cheese by hand into colanders, giving the cheese its characteristic shape and patterning.
The freshly moulded cheeses stay in the dairy where they are turned every day for six days, with dry salt sprinkled once on each side.
After lunch, Berkswell’s Head Cheesemaker, Linda Dutch, showed us what happens next. After their week in the dairy, the young cheeses are washed and coated with plasticote – a yellow substance with the consistency of custard, which is applied to the cheese with a sponge and forms a coating which enables the cheese to breath during maturation. After four coats, and addition of a batch code (which identifies the cheese by date and which of the three heated vats the curd came from), the cheeses are transferred to the storerooms.
Row upon row upon row of cheeses, some young, pale and yellow, some mature and highly textured, sitting on wooden shelving is an awesome sight; a cross between a cheese library and a cold sauna populated by milky UFOs. The cheeses are matured under Linda’s watchful eye for 3-5 months, by which time they have formed a thin crust, a slightly granular texture which varies from moist and semi-soft to firm as the cheese matures, and a rich, fruity and nutty flavour.
Before heading home, there was just time for a trip around the farm. While engaging in the age-old farming practice of leaning on a fence, idly watching-and-being-watched-by sheep, Linda spotted a new-born lamb, still finding its feet and its mother. We then met Stephen Fletcher in the milking parlour as he brought in some ewes for their second milking of the day, ready for the next day’s cheesemaking.