Finn, the Great White Cheese (at Neal’s Yard Creamery)

Lactic cows milk cheese is a subject dear to the heart at the moment as one of the dairies I’m working with, is interested in making a Chaource style cheese.  When I heard about this, it pretty much clinched me wanting to work with them as, independently, I had been thinking of making Chaource myself when I set up on my own, inspired in part by Jasper Hill Farms’ Constant Bliss made over in Vermont and also by a couple of very happy days in the dairy at Hill Farm Dairy making Stawley with Caroline Atkinson.  It therefore follows on that while at Neal’s Yard Creamery I was particularly keen to spend some time observing how they make Finn.
On the Tuesday morning, bright and early, Charlie set off with their little trailer and tank (and yours truly in the passenger seat), heading for the farm to collect milk.  While the goats milk comes from about an hour away in Gloucestershire, the cows milk is a mere half hour away near Glasbury on Wye at the farm of Andrew & Rachel Giles.  Their cows are New Zealand Friesian, a very similar breed to the old British Friesian and as such have higher levels of fats and proteins than the industry standard the Holstein or Holstein Friesian cross.  There are a few Jerseys as well whose influence is probably pretty diluted across the herd as a whole but will give a little extra richness.  They are also farmed on a New Zealand system being out on grass for as long of the year as possible and requiring less concentrates and a more natural feeding regime as a result.  As we arrived at the farm, the milking was in progress and all seemed calm and under control.  We greeted the milkers and unloaded milk from the bulk tank into our little tank on the trailer.  As we filled the tank, I could see in the distance, the cows that had been milked happily making their way back to the fields.  They know their way back without a guide.
Back at Neal’s Yard Creamery, the milk was ready to process.  Starter had been made up and was added.  Double Cream was added too and the buckets left with the milk ripening.  It follows the same lactic process as the goats milk, rennet late afternoon and ladling the following morning but the composition and cream content are less co-operative than with the goats milk.  Cows milk will separate out into milk and cream more readily than sheep or goats milk and especially when kept at warm temperatures such as the 22C or thereabouts that lactic cheeses like to set at.  The danger therefore when making a lactic cheese, is that your cream separates out on top and forms a set cream cheese rather separate from the other curd.  To counteract this, Haydn goes back after the rennet has been added but before it is actually set and stirs the cream back in again.  This is something I have tried too since then when making a couple of batches of Jersey milk cheese and getting the timing right is by no means easy, believe you me.  However if done correctly, the curd the following morning has a lovely clear whey pool above it and the cream is integrated into the mix.  And this is what we found the following morning when checking the pH.
For the Finn, Charlie bought a set of rigid interlinked moulds and draining trays to fit them so they can be stacked as high as the ladler can reach on the draining table.  In my case, that’s not actually all that high but for the considerably taller Charlie and Haydn that’s a great space saving advantage.  They are also beautifully simple to use.  No moulds tipping over of slipping about, you just ladle and ladle until they are full up, then pop a tray and another set of moulds on top and off you go again.  As for washing?  Well they would be a bit tricky to clean by hand, but if you have a dishwasher there’s no problem, and frankly, if you are making over 400 Ragstones a week, never mind Dorstones, Perroche, Perroche logs for catering, Goats Curd, Finn & Cows Curd, a dishwasher is something you will definitely need.
Another thing I was keen to find out about the Finn, is how to control bitter flavours that are an inevitable part of fat breakdown.  Partly Neal’s Yard Creamery have this under control by pumping the milk more gently so that it is handled carefully as it comes in from the tank.   Another aspect in developing the flavour has been dropping the temperature at which rennet is added but rather than protect the fats, this has the effect of allowing greater complexity of flavour to develop from the starter bacteria.  It all contributes, however, to having a rich, buttery lactic flavour that showcases the best of the cream and none of the down sides.
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