Enter the cows

On returning from Piedmont just under a month ago, I checked Facebook to see a post from Nicola about 2 new additions at Holker Farm.  While this could have been puppies, pigs or donkeys, I was fairly certain that it was the much anticipated Shorthorns.  I was right.

One of the ladies, in the barn, with a curious sheep to the left

My first day back in the dairy was the first morning milking and they yielded us probably about 30 litres milk.  Since then they have settled happily in to their once a day milking regime and I’d say in the last week we’re getting nearer to 60 litres.  Nicola has been taking advice on their feed, switched the cake they get in the evening to a better quality and more nutritious one and given them a mineral lick all of which have contributed to them producing more milk but also milk with what seems like good solids.  Otherwise their diet is largely hay based and not particularly intensive.  They came in looking a little thin shortly after giving birth but are gaining condition and seem to be doing well on their once a day milking regime.  Not too taxing and yet yielding us plenty of milk and having now worked out a more regular size, we’re making roughly 10 cheeses weighing about 500g (probably) per day.

When I first started at Holker, Martin talked about how particular sheeps milk is and how once you get used to it, you’ll look at cows milk thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this milk’.  It has to be said I wasn’t entirely prepared for just how different the 2 milks would be.  The difference is (and was) perhaps heightened because the sheeps milk is end of lactation milk so the solids are huge – 8% fat and over 6% protein on one recent test.  The cows milk is early lactation and just naturally has much lower solids anyway than sheeps milk.  The first obvious difference however is the colour.  Cows milk is more yellow but at the same time more translucent, sheeps milk bright white and just standing until the end of the milking, there is a thin layer of yellow cream on top of the vat containing the cows milk.  The colour difference remains throughout the make as well, the whey is clearer and more yellow when cutting the cows milk, the sheeps milk whey, while a yellow colour is slightly thicker and whiter.

Cows milk curd after cutting
Sheeps milk curd after cutting 

The texture is very different too.  In fact it was tricky working out when to cut the cows curd in the first couple of days because the set is much more delicate.  After a couple of days we felt it was going to naturally need more rennet than the sheeps milk and have managed to achieve a firmer set as a result.  However when looking for the ‘clean break’ when determining when to cut the curd, the set of the cows milk when it breaks cleanly is a lot more jelly-like than that of the sheeps milk which is dense and robust.

Drainage is hugely different too.  Whereas the St James needs regular cloth pulling and done pretty forcefully at that, the cows milk cheese (current working name Feallan from the Old English for Fall i.e. Autumn) needs cloth pulling largely much more gently and rather than forcing moisture out, you’re just trying your damndest to keep up with the natural drainage of the curd.  Where St James needs to sit overnight in its cloths with a follower on, by about 3pm Feallan has been turned once in its cloths and ready to be turned again and taken out of the cloths.  In future we’ll get followers to be put onto the Feallan too but for now, they just drain without pressure overnight which leads to slightly less reliable shapes but the drainage seems to happen ok.

Early batches of Feallan and St James on Day 2 in the hastening room before salting.

As for maturing, well we have a couple of batches that we tried binding in spruce cambian (the leather textured layer below the bark that is used to bind Vacherin) which Martin set off into the Holker Estate to cut off trees in their timber stores.  More recent batches have been left to mature without and when we can compare and contrast the matured cheeses, we’ll get an idea of which tastes best.  Currently though, they are being washed a couple of times a week until they are roughly 2 weeks old by which time they have a reasonably convincing covering of B. linens and then they are being wrapped to continue maturing in paper.  Next Tuesday, Bronwen and David from Neal’s Yard Dairy will come and visit the farm and we will get a chance to try some of the older cheeses with them.  The cheeses will be about 5 weeks old by then and some of the oldest have a nice breakdown already.  It will be very interesting to hear what they think.

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