This week saw the return of Swallet for a couple of days. Swallet is a little disc of lactic set cheese which if all goes to plan has a creamy white wrinkled geotrichum rind and the recipe is more or less the Perail recipe but with a little adaptation. The process actually takes a day and a bit until there is anything that looks like a cheese, but it actually requires not so much intervention from the cheesemaker. Basically your job is to help the curd do what comes naturally to a certain extent.The milk is collected on the day of milking. It is cooled a few degrees from the sheep temperature that it comes in at and starter is added. It’s the same yoghurt consistency bulk starter that we use for St James and it is left then to grow and for the acidity to build. A very small quantity of rennet is added that afternoon and it is left to set slowly overnight. The following morning the curd has set and about 24 hours from the addition of the starter, we begin to ladle it out into moulds. Each mould takes about a couple of ladles full of curd and it is then left to drain for about 4 hours before being turned in its moulds and then left overnight again to drain. The following morning we turn the cheeses out onto racks and sprinkle salt over one side. The cheeses are moved into a humid and warm room which has the right conditions to encourage the geotrichum to start growing and then turned and salted on the other side the following day. After that it’s a matter of judgement as to when the cheeses are ready to move to a colder and drier environment once the rind has established itself.
Making Swallet basically uses the natural souring of the milk with a little help from additional starter and although a small amount of rennet is added, it also uses the setting ability of milk when a certain acidity is reached. This means that actually these are technically fascinating cheeses because you are relying on the action of the acidity and the rennet enzymes to squeeze moisture out of the curd rather than, as with St James, cutting the curd to let whey out before ladling. To be honest, it takes a bit of understanding, because there isn’t the same human intervention and it also relies on some quite subtle observations of the curd, in particular, ideally, monitoring of the curd pH which we aren’t able to do at the moment (the meter is broken). The pH reading can of course correlate to observations on the appearance of the curd but it does take a practised eye. Martin says it took him a few months to get his head round how to make it successfully and I suspect that may be the case for me too. So whereas last week’s introduction to St James could be quite lengthy, this is very much just an introduction. I have more questions to ask over the next few weeks as we make more of Swallet perhaps once a week if not even less and when I have got my head round what we’re doing a little better, I’ll return to why we do what we do.