At the studio, we love using great ingredients, but we’re also fascinated about how these ingredients are made. We have found that the more of something you have made from scratch, the more satisfying it is to eat! It’s what led to David building a wood oven in his back garden and why Josie has stopped buying bread altogether. David’s New Year Food Resolution is to make more foods from scratch: he’s previously attempted curing, and wants to do more of that this year, but he also wants to try some new techniques to make some of his favorite foods – including cheese and beer.
Although it is possible to purchase cheese-making kits from the Internet, we wanted to gain the skills to be able to make different types of cheeses and to know how the whole process worked, rather than just producing one block. Fortunately, the Duchy College runs a one-day ‘Introduction to Cheese-making’ course, which we enrolled on.
Duchy College provides students in Cornwall with rural education and training – they have a huge variety of courses, from equine studies, to horticulture, to food manufacturing and even floristry. They have two main campuses – one in Rosewarne, based on a working farm, and one in Stoke Climsland, which has a huge array of food manufacturing facilities – our one-day course was based at Stoke Climsland.
We had a good feeling about the course, as we’d been told to bring along plastic pots – which suggested we were going to be able to sample the goods, which is obviously the most important part of anything related to food. We were also being taught by an actual Doctor of Cheese, a title that might only be surpassed by Doctor of Chocolate or Doctor of Alcohol. There were around 10 of us on the course and we weren’t kept in the classroom too long: we had a quick chat about who we all were and why we were interested in making cheese, and then we headed straight into the manufacturing room.
We were kitted out in full body suits, wellies and hair-nets, and the manufacturing room felt a bit like something you’d see in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: there were loads of different machines, only a few of which we recognized, with pipes coming out in all different directions. We started with a Blue Peter style ‘here’s one I made earlier’ cheese. It turns out that, if you have some cheese starter (which can be purchased online), you can turn double cream into cheese overnight with zero work. It then has to be strained and salted (which also takes very little effort) and you have delicious cream cheese, with the added smugness of having made it yourself. Josie made hers into cheesecake and came in three days later still singing its praises.
Of course, not all cheese is quite so simple. Most cheeses are made from cows milk, which can be pasteurized but must not be homogenized, as this destroys the fat particles which help to make up the cheese. We were fortunate enough to be able to use fresh milk from the Duchy College farm in Rosewarne, which arrived in two huge buckets. The other key ingredients are the starter (which is what you use in the double cream) – you can get a lot of different types, which can affect the flavour of the cheese; rennet, which affects the amino acids in the milk, creating curds; and mould, which may or may not be necessary depending on what cheese you are making. There are also a huge number of steps in the cheese-making process which vary hugely; this is how, with three main ingredients that are essentially the same, you can produce the wide variety of cheeses you find on the supermarket shelves.
We had the opportunity to taste a huge variety of cheeses; some of which had been made at Stoke Climsland by previous students and some of which were some of our best local cheeses – Davidstow, Quickes and Cornish Blue. What was incredibly surprising was how long it can take to get a great tasting cheese; for instance, once you’ve made your cheddar, it takes at least six months to mature and some cheeses such as the Davidstow Cruncher, are matured for up to three years.
The harder the cheese, the more complicated it is to make. Soft cheeses are generally easier to make; though not all soft cheeses are easy – the tutor showed us a mould ripened soft cheese which had dried out and didn’t taste great at all. However, if your tastes are anything like ours, then the challenge of the hard cheese is definitely worth it!
We filled pages and pages with notes, and left the course full of ideas, and cheese. We also took away some soft cheese, and some harder cheese that we’d made, as well as our cream cheese. The harder cheese is still sat in the studio maturing, so we can’t speak much for that yet. The soft cheese was delicious, particularly as we knew how much hard work had gone into making it! We have grand plans for a cheese making session at some point in the next couple of months, which we’ll probably post about, but if you’re at all interested in cheese we’d definitely recommend the course, it was good fun and we now feel rather like cheese experts!