Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holker Farm Dairy, Cumbria

Holker Farm Dairy is a small dairy run by Martin Gott and Nicola Robinson in Cumbria, England.  The land is on the estate of Holker Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Cavendish.  Situated on the Cartmel peninsula, the farm is a few miles away from Cartmel which is well known for its old Priory, and for being a foodie destination – including Cartmel sticky toffee puddings and chef Simon Rogan’s Michelin starred restaurant L’Enclume.   Also Cartmel Cheeses, which Martin runs with Nicola’s father Ian, and stocks traditional British cheeses, some European cheeses, and not least the very cheeses made at the Holker Farm Dairy. 

Sandi and I worked at Holker Farm for 5 months during the “summer” of 2012 (quotation marks on account of this officially being the wettest summer on record in the UK, and we were living in Cumbria - possibly the wettest part of England!).  Between us, we ran the dairy 7 days a week – making the cheese, washing the rinds, packing and sending to the major customer (Neals Yard Dairy), keeping the place clean, and generally learning a lot about artisanal/farmhouse cheese making. 

Martin and Nicola have a herd of approximately 100 Lacaune sheep.  In France, this milk would generally be used to make Roquefort, but at Holker it is made into a delicious washed rind cheese called St James.  Martin and Nicola have also recently purchased a small herd of Dairy Shorthorn cows to help even out the milk supply whilst the sheep are dry.  The cows’ milk is used to make a cheese called Brother David.  And during Autumn, when the sheep are drying off, the milks are mixed to make a cheese called Faellen (the Old English word for Autumn).  We have described each of these cheeses below. 

This is farmhouse cheese making - the raw milk from the sheep (or cows!) is pumped from the adjacent milking shed into the dairy, directly into the vats.  Before it has a chance to cool, starter culture is added to begin the ripening process.  The cheese is set with calf rennet until it reaches the required firmness, which depends on milk quality, the time of the season, and the weather (frequent rainy days kept us on our toes).  After cutting and resting, the curd is hand ladled into cloth lined moulds, and the necessary turning, pulling and draining operations are done.  The cheese is salted after a further day of resting, and is then washed and turned regularly over the next few weeks to develop an orange/pink rind.

# 24 - St James
This is a raw ewes milk, washed rind cheese.  The cheese is a flat square, and approximately 1.2kg.  We enjoyed making this cheese as it always developed good savoury, meaty, bacon flavours without many apparent defects or off-flavours.  Because of the artisanal nature of making cheese at this volume, the cheese can vary somewhat between batches.  The ideal St James has a glossy appearance, with a smooth texture, but is stable – i.e. it will not keep softening until it runs across the plate, but will maintain a gentle bulge when cut.  This was not always possible, and sometimes we had a slightly firmer cheese.   
As we found later at Neals Yard Dairy, as it ages the rind dries a little and is less bright orange, with some moulds developing much later, but the flavour maintains itself and some cheeses up to 3 months old have a flavour that no other cheese can match. 

St James that hasn't quite matured fully.

#25 – Brother David
This is a raw cows milk, washed rind cheese.  Brother David is a flat round and smaller than St James, approximately 700-800g, although the rind has a similar appearance to St James.  We found it more difficult to make Brother David, as the cows milk was not as robust as the Lacaune sheep milk, both in terms of cheese making/curd handling, and in flavour development.  We struggled to make a cheese without some bitterness in the rind, although this can also be said of some French washed rind cheeses.  Often there were similar meaty, savoury flavours as seen in the St James.  But overall we found the variability much greater in the Brother David. 

Brother Davids waiting to be packed, with the farm outside.

#26 – Faellen
This is a raw milk washed rind cheese, made from a mixture of milk from Dairy Shorthorn cows and Lacaune sheep.  It is made in a similar method to the St James cheese, and is a flat round approximately 700-800g. Although we only made this cheese for a month before our time was up at Holker Farm, we really enjoyed making it.  The sheeps milk seems to mask any difficulties from the cows milk and so we found Faellen easy and enjoyable to make – perhaps our previous four months experience helped as well.  Faellen develops a similar glossy, smooth, bulging texture and savoury bacony flavours as St James.  

Racks of Faellen.

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