Back in January, just as one job was finishing, luckily, I received a message from Julie Cheyney who was looking for someone to help her with her cheesemaking. Would I be interested?
Um yes. I would be honoured.
I know how much Julie’s cheese is a labour of love and to be asked to help was a big deal.
St Jude and St Cera are lovely cheeses. Julie has been making cheese at Fen Farm Dairy for a couple of years now and although the St Marcellin-style lactic cheese was always good before, since moving to Suffolk the cheese has had an extra edge.
Part of the equation is the milk. Jonny Crickmore, whose herd provides the milk for St Jude and St Cera, is also a cheesemaker as I’m sure you all know. He makes the renowned Baron Bigod – in my opinion, the only Brie style cheese being made in the UK that comes close to a French one in terms of depth of flavour. True it is still on the learning curve as the cheesemakers are developing a working knowledge of their cheese comparable to that which has been passed down by French Brie makers from generation to generation but each year the cheese gets better and better and finally this year it was sold into shops in Paris.
However St Jude is not just down to the milk. Julie is an exacting cheesemaker. If the curd hit its ladling pH of 4.6 at midnight or one o’clock in the morning, then that’s when she would ladle it. If the cheeses needed to drain by moving from one room to another repeatedly over several days after moulding in order for a good geotrichum rind to grow, she would be in the dairy several times a day to put a heater on, put a fan on, look at the cheeses and see what they needed. To replicate that was always going to be a tall order. Especially as trial makes in February proved conclusively that midnight ladling followed by a 4 am start in for the milk for the next day’s make does not suit my metabolism one little bit. I got ill and then made Julie ill. Not good.
However in the form of Thierry the Normandy cheese consultant a shorter recipe was devised. Initially, from the beginning of this year, Julie experienced draining problems in the curd which were giving her mucor on the rind instead of geotrichum and blue, yellow, grey spots plus bitter flavours on the bad batches. Thierry suggested an extra step before ladling to help the cheese drain in the vat – cutting a cross a couple of hours after renneting. To begin with this seemed to help but come July we were getting odd split curd in the vat even with the cross cutting and began to wonder if in fact this was weakening the curd. Experiments with not cutting the cross however didn’t bear this out. On the other hand, Thierry came back for another visit and decided that we needed more active starters. It had been taking a couple of hours to cool the milk from cow temperature to 27C using a flag (which looks a bit like a radiator & you can run either hot or cold water through it). Our cold water wasn’t the coldest and hence it took a long time to cool the milk. The starters therefore weren’t able to get going quickly and the natural flora of the milk which may or may not have been what we wanted, were flourishing instead. Thierry looked at Julie’s starters and her method of preparation and suggested adding them directly without incubating overnight. True enough they did work much faster that way. Turns out that a DVI starter has bacteria but also cryogenic particles to preserve the freezing process and if you incubate it overnight those particles inhibit the bacteria. I never knew that! It would appear the only starters that benefit from culturing overnight are bulk starters or levain grains for a bulk starter. Well you learn something new every day.
So we set off adding our DVI starters to the milk without cooling and then cooled it at renneting. Initially we had some issues that suggested possible phage so we used some rocket fuel starters, which we have ultimately given up on. For a lactic cheese an 8 hour make is way too short and indeed the cheeses dried to pebbles during maturation because they had very much overacidified. However with a new batch of starters along the lines of her old ones and from the same supplier, we have returned to a better timing of the make and flavours much more like the old St Jude.
The interesting thing has been that longer makes still disintegrate more and drain less well as a result despite not having the overacidification problem. This lead Julie to question further and see if in fact phage was not the overriding issue. Luckily for her the Science of Artisan Cheese Conference was coming up and therefore if she got all her photos and data in a row she would be able to consult Ivan Larcher who after several years setting up his own dairy on a family farm was making some tentative forays back into the consulting arena. Ivan asked questions about titratable acidity of milk and whey, milk tests for fat and protein and suggested we investigate the casein content in the milk. More on that when the results come in.