We craft a range of different cheeses from the sheep, cow and goat milk that is delivered to our farm daily. It still amazes us that from the same quality ingredient we can create the unique flavours and textures which characterise our cheeses from the soft and fluffy Sussex Slipcote to the nutty Duddleswell and from creamy St Giles to veined Brighton Blue. While each High Weald Dairy cheese is unique, the thing they have in common is that the entire cheese-making process, from pasteurisation to packaging, takes place in the dairy on our farm in West Sussex.
STEP 1 – Pasteurisation
The milk we use to make our cheeses comes predominantly from within Sussex. In fact, some of it, including some of our organic cow’s milk, comes just a couple of miles from the neighbouring farm. These days, we have to look a little further afield to source our more specialist goat’s milk, which comes from Dorset, and sheep’s milk, which is brought in from both Sussex and Dorset. All our organic cow milk suppliers are members of the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. The milk arrives in raw form and the first step is to pasteurise it – this is done in a completely separate pasteurisation room and removes any unwanted bacteria that can affect the cheese-making process.
STEP 2 – Coagulation
Much of the cheese-making process at the High Weald Dairy is done by hand but one of the few machines we do have is the large milk vat which can hold 3,000 litres of milk. Here is where the cheese-making process starts when a starter culture (a bit like yogurt) is added to the pasteurised milk, which is warmed to around 32 degrees centigrade. After an hour or so, rennet is added to coagulate the milk. We use a natural microbial rennet, suitable for vegetarians, rather than the traditional animal rennet. After another hour, the milk has coagulated or “set” like junket. It is then ready to be separated in to solid curds and liquid whey.
STEP 3 – Separating the curds and whey
After the initial coagulation, the curds are cut into different sized cubes, depending on the style of cheese required, using curd knives. The larger surface area created by cutting the curd allows more whey to drain out of the curds. This is left for one to two hours, and often heated up to 40 degrees centigrade (depending on the style of cheese required), during which time the lactose in the milk turns to lactic acid. The contents of the cheese vat, curds and whey, are drained on to a lipped table, where much of the whey is separated from the curds, and our cheese makers get to work scooping the curds into cheese moulds. For hard cheeses like Ashdown Foresters, Tremain’s or Duddleswell it is the curds that are used while some soft cheeses, like ricotta, are made using just the whey. The cheese moulds have holes in so the whey can continue to drain out, and sometimes the cheeses are pressed to help form the cheese shape and create a sealed rind. How long it is left to drain depends on the cheese being produced.
STEP 4 – Maturing the cheese
Our fresh soft cheese, Sussex Slipcote, does not require maturing and can be made one day, packaged the next and enjoyed by our customers the following day. Our semi-soft and hard cheeses however go through a longer maturation process, again the type of cheese being produced determines how long the maturation process takes. Maturing takes place in our cool and airy cheese store where they sit on slatted timber shelves. They are turned one to two times a week to ensure even moisture throughout. They are also rubbed down which helps keep the naturally-occurring mould rind to a manageable level.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
Once our cheeses have been matured they are ready to eat. Some do not require anything more than a brush down before they are packaged ready for distribution while others are given a natural rind or are smoked over oak shavings in our on-site smokery. We sell our cheese in a number of ways from full rounds or truckles (up to four kilos in weight) to portioned pieces which are suitable for individuals. All are packaged on site ready to be sold from our fridge at the farm, at farmers’ markets, farm shops, delicatessens, restaurants and selected multiple retailers.
If you are interested in the cheese-making process, why not join one of our day-long cheese courses?