The Fine Cheese Co. visit Westcombe
The day began with an eventful car journey relying on Flo Neame’s navigational skills. The four of us (Dave – who works with me in the Bath Shop,Flo – who looks after shop customers, Mark – our chief cheese cutter and myself) arrived around 9 O’clock at the dairy. Thankfully Tom Calver had told us we weren’t needed at 5 Am for the morning milking! Tom met us at the entrance of the dairy, whilst dealing with the milk lorry driver (even when giving a tour, Tom’s still working!). We began with a quick hygiene form and into protective wear before entering the “wet room”. The steamy milky air was to greet us and we could see several operations commencing. We started with Cheddar making, watching the robotic giant paddles mixing in the starter culture with the warmed milk. Rob is an excellent Cheddar maker and uses his keen eye to oversee the machine before literally getting “hands on” or elbows deeps in milk.
Rob stirs the curd away from the sides and bottom where the paddles cant reach.
Whilst waiting for the rennet to do its job we joined Adam to begin making Caerphilly cheese. Once the rennet had set the milk, we were taught how to find the right consistency by plunging our finger in and looking for the right amount of cracking in the set cheese to see how long it needed before cutting.
Adam cuts through the set milk to leave chopped curd from the whey.
We stepped out of the wet room, only to be shown the ageing rooms. The Cheddar room was amazing holding 4,500 Cheddars at one time! That’s the equivalent of 100 tonnes of Cheddar. We tasted several, using a cheese iron learning how to look for texture, smell and overall taste. Yum yum!
The cheddar Ageing room in it’s glory!
We were also shown the Caerphilly (Duckett’s) ageing room. A natural spring still runs through it. The smell as you would guess is quite musty, but the cheeses which are produced are fantastic.
After seeing this, I eagerly awaited the newest and the most exciting cheese to be made, the ricotta. Unfortunately we had to wait another 2 hours or so before the whey was drained to make it. Whilst the end of the initial process of cutting the curds and draining of the whey, we were invited to meet the real producers of the cheese, the cows.
The Friesian-Holstein breed of cows that the Calver’s keep, produce 6000 litres of milk a day. We were gladly joined by Richard Calver (Tom’s father), who gave us a talk on the breed and also the farm itself. A very prized asset as the local vets hold conferences here on animal husbandry to show how a successful farm should work. We were very fortunate to be shown the bracelet and aerial system. This amazing computer system can tell you everything about each cow from how much it’s been fed to how far it’s walked!
Shortly we stopped for lunch at the Calver family home, where we were greeted and served a fantastic quiche Lorraine (made with Westcombe Cheddar of course!).
After lunch it was back to the wet room to the final parts of the process. The Caerphillys were moulded, the Cheddars were milled and pressed (heavy work, I can tell you) and finally the ricotta was ready to be sieved and placed in colanders to drain any excess whey - it is definitely best fresh on the day!
Fantastic fresh ricotta.
Overall a great trip to see how a real Cheddar maker earns his money. Its hard graft but worth it. And besides, if nothing else we taught a Canadian how to make real Somerset cheddar, that can’t be a bad thing!