Walls and Windows

Well, it’s not so long since I was getting excited about concrete being down on the floor and drainage channels being dug.  However today, I have received most exciting photos.  The outside walls are nearly up.  Most of the cladding is up and you can really get a sense of what the building itself will look like finally.  It’s looking pretty good, I must say.

Meanwhile, I am still working on HACCP and Quality Systems paperwork.  It’s a long haul and will be the subject of another post in due course.  Just need to get the stuff finished first!

Nettlebed Creamery as seen from the Western corner.
Nettlebed Creamery as seen from the Western corner.


The 2 Cheesemaking Rooms (1 for St Bartholomew and 1 for the blue cheese).
The 2 Cheesemaking Rooms (1 for St Bartholomew and 1 for the blue cheese).


Nettlebed Creamery, first floor.  This is where our offices and staffroom will go.
Nettlebed Creamery, first floor. This is where our offices and staffroom will go.


Nettlebed Creamery, the Western side.  Look.  Doors.
Nettlebed Creamery, the Western side. Look. Doors.

Cheesery on Wheels

Somewhere around February as we were delayed in our site planning permission by the Highways Agency and considering renting an industrial unit, Rose’s mother asked
‘Why don’t you just try and make a few cheeses?’
Although we had no site in which to make cheese, we both loved the idea and began to test out various options.
Option 1:  Use a catering kitchen on the estate
Option 2:   See if a friendly cheesemaker would like to rent us their space
And Option 3, which presented itself while booking in on a course for learning about Blue Cheese:
Rent the training dairy at the School of Artisan Food.
Option 1 was abondoned quite quickly as not only was the kitchen not available but we also had no maturing space for anything we made (although we did consider purchasing a few wine fridges for the purpose).
Option 2 was investigated but bringing non EHO approved milk into someone’s work space to make a completely different type of cheese which the cheesemaker had no HACCP for was a can of worms that the people we approached would rather wasn’t opened and, to be honest, that’s understandable.  Option 3 however had legs.
Enter Lee Anna Rennie Dairy co-cordinator for the School of Artisan Food, who loved the idea and researched us a price and set about working out what the School would need from us in order to make this idea reality.
At the same time, we also looked into the possibility of hiring the Little Cheesery, a mobile cheesemaking unit which has been developed by a company in Derby.  They actually specialise in stainless steel work and custom making as well as assembling food standard production lines.  The Little Cheesery is something they knocked together to show what they can do in terms of cheese equipment and it has proved really quite popular for demonstrations and fairs as well as for people like us who want a home for some trial batches.
A visit to both was necessary so off I drove to the School of Artisan Food for a look around and then a few days later off I drove again to Derby to look over the Little Cheesery.
It was a tough choice to make, actually, in the end.  The Little Cheesery is remarkably well equipped and fits a lot of stuff into a small space, actually rather more than we needed.  The dairy at the School of Artisan Food also has a lot of equipment, far more than we need, but of course they run professional cheesemaking courses covering every type of cheese from hard, mountain-style cheese to soft lactic cheese so diverse equipment is required.  It has many other attractions too, the possibility of a milk supply if we had wanted, their extensive research library, the waterbath for controlled lactofermentation tests and the cheese care services of Lee Anna as well.
The thing that really made the decision crystal clear in my mind, though, was just the fact it is a permanent building with its own functioning infrastructure.  The basic things like not having to plug a trailer into three phase electricity or connect up to a water supply etc are taken care of meaning that when it comes to the problems you have to troubleshoot (because let’s not be so naïve as to think there won’t be any) they are related to the milk, the make and the cheese and not fixing the electrics.
With any decision, you choose what problems you’d rather be dealing with.  We chose to focus on understanding the milk and the cheese.  I’m glad we did.

Making Starter Culture

This week we were down to our last pots of frozen starter and needed to culture some more ourselves. We had done a trial run about 4 weeks ago which seemed to have worked so on Monday & Tuesday we made up another couple of batches.  Monday’s was made using St James whey and Tuesdays’s was made using milk.  As yet I’m not really sure what the difference will be between the 2 of them or indeed if there will be any.  One theory says that the starter will work more powerfully in a less fat rich medium than milk as the fats can inhibit starters whereas in whey, there is available lactose for them to consume but hardly any fat.Some cheesemakers culture up starter every 2 or 3 days and don’t freeze it, but for the quantities that Martin needs to use it in, this is simpler and if it’s frozen at the right time you don’t harm the bacteria.  They need to be put in to freeze in the lag phase before they start reproducing because once they start to reproduce they’re vulnerable.

So on Monday we made the starter up in whey (largely to be honest because I’d already set both vats of milk by the time Martin came down to the dairy).  And on Tuesday I took out a  litre of milk from one of the vats before I added the starter or rennet and we made up starter in milk.  The process was basically the same though – we poured 1 litre of whey into a sterilised stainless steel container which was then put into a pan of water and put on the hob.  The water in the pan boils but the whey doesn’t reach the same temperature and is basically pasteurised.  It then needs to cool down of course because the bacteria in the starter work best at around 30C and will be killed off at the sort of temperatures involved in pasteurisation.  Interestingly when heating whey, of course, you make ricotta, so the curds need to be strained out after it has cooled and before the starter can be added.  This doesn’t happen when making milk starter but you do have to dispose of the skin that forms on the top of it as it cools.

Each day we take a pot containing about 100ml of starter and in general we tend to use only about 65ml at the most so there is some spare. Once the whey had cooled down, therefore, we added 10ml of this starter to the whey and stirred it around to distribute.  If making in larger quantities, the rule would be 1% starter.  Then the whey and starter was poured into pots which were chilled in the cold store for about 20 minutes before going into the freezer.

To use, we take them out of the freezer the day before at ideally about 12 or 12.30 and it takes about half an hour to thaw out and then the bacteria get to work.  By the following morning when we’re ready to use them, they will have acidified.  If using the milk starter, as it acidifies it will also thicken to look less like a pot of milk and more like yoghurt.  The whey starter however doesn’t so we have to do a titratable acidity test on it to check it.

So far I’ve only used the new starters twice though so it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions on which is more active and effective from 2 TA readings but it will be interesting to see if the theory that the fats in milk inhibit the starter does actually work out in reality.

Monday’s starter made in whey
 Tuesday’s starter made in milk