As five relative cheese-newbies, we were sent to find out all that we could about the methods used in artisan cheese making. Oliver, Dorian, Nicola, Ash and I set off with our tutor for the day; Andy Swinscoe to Sleight farm, just south of Bath. We drove up a tiny track, over a very steep hill and arrived at the farm. Immediately it felt like we had stepped back into the past....
The cheese in question was Tymsboro', a pyramid- shaped goats' cheese made in a traditional style by Mary Holbrook.
We were met by Fred who talked us through the processes involved in making the cheese. As novices it was great to see first-hand how it is done.
We first saw the milking room, where the goats are milked daily from spring through to autumn. It is important that they are not milked all year round as Mary believes it leads to happier goats and thus improves the quality of the milk. This practice is not often used in commercial dairy farming as it is less profitable. The milk is very fresh, the oldest being from the previous evening and is unpasteurised. The milk is heated to between 20-22˚C and then the left over whey from the previous day is added which sours the milk, along with a tiny amount of rennet. It is then left in a large tub for 24hours to incubate. The curd is very delicate because there is so little rennet added. Fred demonstrated this by letting us each ladle the curd into the already half -full moulds. The trick was to break up the curd as little as possible, which we nearly achieved! Fred told us that this process is quite time consuming as you have to top up the moulds every so often and then the cheese drains and shrinks, and you have to top it up a little more. We could see how much liquid was running from the moulds and dripping from the table in to a large tub.
After two days draining it is pressed lightly and turned out on to plastic mats and lightly salted. Once firm it is lightly dusted with a mixture of charcoal powder; which is imported from France, and salt. Using powdered charcoal to coat cheese is traditionally a French practice; it gives the cheese a beautiful grey colour and helps the beneficial moulds which grow on the rind of the cheese, which in turn enhance the flavour of the cheese. To begin with, the farm had to add a penicillium culture to the ripening room to help the mould develop but now it is naturally occurring. The mould usually takes between seven and ten days to develop. The Tymsboro' ripened pyramid is then matured for between 3 and 4 weeks although it can mature for up to 3 months.
Now came my favourite part- the tasting! Fred gave us an example of a freshly made Timsbury ash pyramid which Mary sells as fresh cheese with its moussey texture and lemony finish, a Tymsboro' ripened pyramid in the early stages of its ripening and then a fully ripened Tymsboro' pyramid where the crumb has become firmer like ice-cream and the flavour more mellow and nutty. I found the difference in flavour between each example quite surprising. The flavours in each were lemony, but in the older one had a pronounced nutty flavour, almost akin to hazelnut. Fred encouraged us to identify the flavours in each and we came up with 'lemon', 'coconut', 'hazelnut', 'creamy' and' goat' to describe it.
We all had a great morning learning about Tymsboro' and how it is made. Personally I loved seeing how a truly artisan cheese is made and I will definitely buy Tymsboro' in the future!