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Shortlisted for Great British Cheese Awards

Chuffed, delighted and surprised to announce that we have been shortlisted in the Great British Cheese Awards for Best Soft Cheese AND Best Artisan Cheese Producer.

500 cheeses were nominated and we’re down to the final dozen in both categories. Frankly, we’re pretty stunned, having only been selling to the public since March.

We’d love to go further and need your help.

If you can, and feel that our cheese is worth it, then please do nominate us.

Onwards and upwards!

 

 

Now stocked at Kimbers’ Farm Shop

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I spent the morning and early afternoon offering samples at Kimbers’ Farm Shop – just south of Bruton and north of Wincanton, in case you don’t know it.

Positive reactions from everyone who tried it. More or less everyone who tasted it went on to buy some, so that can’t be bad.

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this part of the business but it’s incredibly gratifying to see the expressions of people when they first taste Renegade Monk – especially if they love it.

I was set up on a little table in the farm shop. It’s fascinating to see how people react. They’re drifting along in their own personal bubble, picking up jars of chutney and, if you catch their eye, you can ask them if they’d like to try some cheese.

Most people, perhaps unsurprisingly, say yes, of course. Then I deliver my (scintillating) spiel.

But not all. My favourite encounter of the day was with a lady who, when I smilingly asked if she would like to try some cheese, indignantly replied, “No, not at random like that!”, – and then proceeded to sample several cheeses at the ‘official’ cheese counter, made her purchases and sauntered off.

But a good morning – and my cheese is now stocked at Kimbers’.

 

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Approval

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It’s a big day. Eight months after I first made contact with my local Environmental Health Officer, I have just been granted conditional approval to sell my cheeses to the general public.

It’s perfectly normal to get only conditional approval at this stage. I’ll be inspected again in three months time – and, if I’m up to scratch at that point (some small modifications are required to my changing area), I should be granted full approval.

It feels like a significant milestone. Months of sweat, blood and tears (with occasional euphoric cheese tastings) have finally paid off.

I’m up and running and extremely elated. Now to find a market where I can actually sell the cheeses…

The Food Assembly

 

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It was Petra, my sister, who first introduced me to The Food Assembly. It’s a brilliant concept that began in France back in 2010.

It’s like a farmer’s market with added digital. Instead of the producer having to guess how much stock to bring and then having to wait around watching the stock wilt or otherwise begin to go off, Food Assembly customers order in advance online. The producer needs only to bring the stock they have sold – while the customer can still talk to the producer and gets the chance to buy food that might otherwise elude them. A win-win for everyone.

This Creative Review article about the Frome Food Assembly may make things clearer.

Happily enough, Frome is my nearest Food Assembly so I’ve just been to meet them to see if they were interested in my new cheese.

Pia and Lindsay were incredibly enthusiastic. You can tell when people go, “Mmm, cheese…” Here they are in a BBC Countryfile episode.

I had to tell them my cheeses weren’t quite ready for public consumption but it looks like I’ve got my first market lined up.

More equipment arrives

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The dollies that wheel the cheese racks are finally here (you can see the racks to the right of the picture).

Ottilie is very kindly peeling off the protective plastic wrapping – a surprisingly arduous and sticky job.

Looking at this photo, it is becoming apparent that the second-hand dishwasher that I had hoped to install really won’t pass muster. My EHO (Environmental Health Officer) simply wouldn’t approve!

Snagging

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Some last details.

I say that in jest because, if I’ve learned one thing, with a project like this there will always be something else. Still, the electricity meter is being boxed in so that I won’t short out the entire neigbourhood when I wash down.

And doesn’t my new lino look nice?

Food-grade panelling arrives

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Another red letter day.

I’m a bit of a sucker for large bits of kit being delivered on site. And here it is, Kingspan’s finest food-grade panelling. I particularly enjoyed the little forklift on the back of the lorry. No photos of it in situ but you can’t have everything.

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And once it’s on site, the room starts taking shape remarkably quickly, shutting off the new cheese room from the rest of the house…

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More building

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Building regs have approved the drain layout, so now the concrete can be laid. Of course, I have complete confidence in Glenn but, at the same time, I’m slightly nervous, because there’s no turning back once the concrete is in.

Ottilie, Matty and Hector are all keen to help. A good thing, given how much cash I’m currently haemorrhaging…

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Glenn, however, seems curiously pleased with the mayhem that he’s brought to this once quiet space.

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Building begins in earnest

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I had a false start but now building work has begun. The lino has been ripped up and now here’s Glenn, cutting into the concrete floor to make a trench for the floor drain.

It’s noisy and messy – the machine is a beast – but we’re up and running. So hey, just photos of some building work but it’s exciting to be getting going… And I’m learning stuff about plumbing and building regs that I never thought I’d need to.

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Ye Olde Cheese Presse Part 2

As I’ve mentioned, most cheese recipes follow a pretty similar pattern – the devil is in the detail. However, when making hard cheese, you need to drive off more whey than you would with a soft cheese. This can be done by cutting the set curd more finely, increasing the surface area through which the whey can drain. It can also be done by scalding the curd, raising the temperature to force out still more whey.

With this cheddar recipe, I’m still using a mesophilic starter (which tends to be happiest between 20˚C and 40˚C), rather than the heat-loving thermophilic cultures (35˚C and 45˚C) that you might use for springier cheeses such as Emmental or Mozzarella.

The real difference in the process comes once I have cut the curd (into small 1cm squares). The curds are then gently heated up to 40˚C, stirring continuously for 15 minutes and occasionally for a further 15 minutes. They are then left to rest before the whey is poured off.

The curds have now coagulated into a single mass at the bottom of the bain marie. These are cut in half and stacked one on top of the other. This process, which is repeated, is known as cheddaring – the weight of the cheese itself helping to drive out yet more whey.

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Once the curds have achieved the desired pH of 5.5 (which, in this instance, took somewhat longer than expected), they are broken up by hand into walnut-sized pieces. Professional cheddar makers have a peg mill through which strips of curd can be run, much like a mangle.

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The milled curd is salted, stirred, left to mellow – and then finally added to the mould and pressed overnight under 5 times the weight of the cheese. I’m approximating here as I have not found a way to calibrate the pressure of my cheese press. However, I’m satisfied that the cheddar is under more pressure than I achieved back in May.

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The following day, I wrap and bind the cheese in muslin and it’s into the wine cooler to mature for a minimum of four months.