Using artisan techniques but made to a newly developed recipe, Renegade Monk is made from organic, pasteurised cows’ milk while the set curd is then hand-washed in ale every few days as the cheese matures. Maturation takes no more than four weeks.
The cheesemaker, Marcus Fergusson, deliberately created a cheese of a style not traditionally found in Britain – but rather a cheese inspired by a range of Continental cheeses. Renegade Monk might be all that’s left to represent Europe on the cheese board post-Brexit…
The resulting cheese combines the joyful creaminess of Brie and Camembert; the southern, creamy capriciousness of Saint-Marcellin and Banon; the sardonic bite of Epoisses and Langres; and the languid blue of Dolcelatte or a young Gorgonzola (gunning for a mention in Pseud’s Corner here).
Renegade Monk is European in style but determinedly Somerset British by design. The milk comes from Bruton Organic Dairy and the ale – Funky Monkey – from the Milk Street Brewery in Frome.
As an artisan cheese, Renegade Monk can naturally vary in consistency and temperament. When the cheese is firmer, the rind tends to be darker but the interior is milder on the palate; when the cheese is soft – and it can be encouraged into liquidity – the rind is pale with a scatter of blue, and a pungent, almost goaty inner core.
Renegade Monk should be kept refrigerated but allowed to come up to room temperature before eating. Prolonged refrigeration (not beyond its shelf life) will result in a firmer, drier cheese.
Where does the name come from?
Renegade Monk is a hybrid, combining the attributes of soft white cheese, blue cheese and rind-washed cheese. Some purists may object to this nontraditional combination – hence the Renegade in the name.
While many cheeses are washed in brine, cheeses can also be washed with beer, wine or spirits. This technique dates from the Middle Ages and originated in the Franciscan monasteries of France and Belgium, where the Monks were often not only cheese makers but distillers and brewers as well. Washing in alcohol results in a more pungent and complex taste and a creamier, softer consistency than is achieved through brine washing. It also helps to preserve the cheese.
The name is equally a nod to the Knights Templar, the original renegade monks, following their brutal suppression in 1307. Feltham’s Farm is less than two miles from the village of Templecombe, where a Templar Preceptory was established in 1185.
Templecombe became an important administrative centre for the land the Templars held in the South West and was used to train men and horses for use in the Crusades. Feltham’s Farm is sited on what was once Templar land.
Some of the riper cheeses may occasionally deserve to be locked up but the farm has no connection with Feltham Young Offenders Institution in Hounslow. Rather, Feltham’s Farm is a smallholding in South Somerset, just south of Wincanton, close to the border with Wiltshire and Dorset.
Although not certified as organic, Feltham’s Farm is run on organic principles and Renegade Monk is made from organic milk.
Feltham’s Farm attempts to be both self-sufficient and sustainable and is home to a growing number of rare breed chickens, geese, Hebridean sheep and a dozen Oxford Sandy & Black pigs. The pigs dispose of the cheese whey and currently consume upwards of 300 litres a week.
And a little about me
Well, I’m a cheesemaker but I only made my first cheese in the spring of 2016.
I quickly fell in love with the alchemy of cheesemaking and it didn’t take long before I decided to throw in my conventional job and set up an artisanal cheese business. It’s a cliché, I know, but ever since then I’ve been on a journey into a new, exceptionally welcoming and fascinating world.
So I decided to blog about it, to record my journey for posterity and, I hope, to encourage others to try their hand at making cheese themselves. The basics are easy enough. Everything else will take a lifetime.