A Cheesy Tale…

It was a cold and dank day back in late January when myself  along with two other chefs, Jason and Aidan were to spend the day making cheeses with Cheese makers Robin & Carla Betts at Winterdale Shaw on the top of Wrotham Hill.

I had initially detoured to Swanley to pick up Aidan as he was coming from London where his day job was working for La Fromagerie cheesemongers and Jason at the time was working nearby and had initially introduced me to Robin & Carla.

Well at about 9am we had all arrived and having scrubbed up, washed and disinfected our hands thoroughly and some rather fetching white jackets and hair nets and shoe covers we were set to go. Our task was to turn 1000 litres of that morning’s milk into what Winterdale Shaw does best – Cheddar Cheese.

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Robin had placed the 1000 litres of unpasteurised milk from their family’s herd of Friesian cows into the vat ready to go through the process.

The milk still warm from the dairy requires only a little heating and since they have installed a heat exchange pump is now carbon neutral as the milk is heated to the required temperature. The addition of the rennet to set the milk to curds and then the cutting of these curds to then start what is then known as the cheddaring completed the morning’s work!

We all sat down for a welcome lunch of guess what…yep some rather splendid cheese, bread and a glass of red wine as we discussed with Robin and Carla how they have now built up a real enterprising business. Aidan waxed lyrically about his ventures in the cheese emporium and Jason and myself started to plan how we could use the cheese we were making with a future dinner.

The afternoon session proceeded rapidly as the whey was drained off the cut curds and we then turned the blocks of the curd and built brick wall style constructions in the bottom of the vat to aid the draining of the whey… it was hard physical work that got all three of us apprentice cheese makers involved and finally when Robin had declared the curds ready the moulds were lined up ready with the cheese cloths and by hand after the curds and been milled added to the mould and packed in tight. Texture and taste at this stage reminded me of halloumi and as we then moved the moulds to pressing tables the cheese were then ready to have the weights applied and left for circa 12 hours to set and drain.

Those 1000 litres of milk produced just 15 cheeses and we all felt we had contributed something to their existence!

Next Carla would have removed them from their moulds and bound them with fresh cloths and lard to seal them before loading them onto a rickety lift to lower into the specially built cellar where they have now sat slowly maturing.

During these months the cheeses resting on beech planks are turned on a regular basis to ensure even maturing. An external grader comes in to check the cheese and give if a mark from 1-100 and the maximum ever awarded by the grader being 94 we joked with Robin and Carla what would they do if ours exceeded their best score!

Well a recent grading has taken place and we can reveal the score achieved for our cheeses is 89, Carla’s best being 90 and Robins 91. So I guess we are up there with the best of them!!!

Now we are pleased to announce we will be using our cheese at a special dinner planned for early September. The plan is to serve four courses using the cheese and the setting will be quite unique down in the Winterdale Shaw cheese cellar.

Will post more about the event soon but please keep either Friday September 9th or Saturday 10th free as these two nights will be rather special nights.

Bookings open August 1st.