Last month I documented my first attempt to make an artisan Cheddar cheese for the discerning citizens of SW17. If you’ve already read it, you’ll know that it wasn’t an unqualified success. If you haven’t, the sorry story is here. Or to summarise: I bought the wrong milk, didn’t have a thermometer or proper mould, heated up the curds too quickly, drank some wine and left them to drain for too long before finally someone moved my ‘cheese’ onto a warm hob and it gave up the ghost altogether. The finished ‘Cheddar’ looked like this:
So. Not terribly Cheddary then.
Never mind! Onward and upward. Undeterred in my mission to bring quality cheese to the masses, it was time for Round Two.
On reading my pathetic saga, a proper cheesemaker suggested that homogenised milk was probably not the best idea. Apparently it makes for a blander cheese and a softer curd so may have been a contributing factor in my cheese collapse. For this attempt, I managed to get some unhomogenised Jersey milk from the supermarket. Now, some might suggest that in terms of provenance and food miles, using milk from Jersey makes Tooting Gold a bit of a sham but after conducting a comprehensive survey of the available lactating mammals in the area I made the executive decision that even the most dedicated local foodies were not going to go for Squirrel Stilton or Fox Fontina. (If you could milk green parakeets, I’d be laughing.) So Jersey it is. Like it or lump it.
I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow account of the entire process again, except to say that this time I did things properly. I was very careful about keeping things sterile; this was easy as I have two small children so know all about sterilising things (well for the first child anyway; the second lives on dustballs and scavenged cat biscuits). I also heated up the curds gently in a water bath in the sink rather than blowtorching them on the gas hob:
And I only let them drain for one hour (rather than four, which was where the wine got involved last time). At this point, I had a big cheesy lump and so – this is an exciting bit, bear with me – I actually cheddared my curds! I cut the lump into four slices and stacked them in piles:
Every ten minutes or so, I rotated the lumps until, after an hour or so, the slices had flattened out and the texture inside was a bit like cooked chicken breast:
This cheddaring process helps to drain off excess whey and also raises the acid levels of the cheese so that it can mature for longer. (Get me!)
I then broke it up into lumps, salted it and put it into my cheese mould. I struggled for a while with what to use as a mould but then found this great colander in an local Asian shop, the perfect shape and with holes to let the remaining whey out. I pressed the cheese, flipping it every now and then for the next few hours. Last time I don’t think I used enough pressure and so this time used a state of the art cheese press made from a big pan, assorted tins of baked beans and chopped tomatoes and a carrier bag containing £37.21 in coppers. It weighed about fifty pounds and although wasn’t ideal was a better bet than the alternative (getting my children to sit still on it for twenty-four hours):
The big moment came. After twenty-four hours of pressing, what would I find in the colander…
Ta-da! Look! It actually looks like a proper cheese! How cool is that? (You can almost hear the theme to the advert in your head now, can’t you? ‘Too-ting GOLD! Always believe in your so-ul, you’ve got the power to know, you’re indestructible…’)
Now it’s drying out for a few days before I mummify it in cheesecloth and cover it in some special cheese gunk. My final decision will be where to mature it. I need to store it somewhere for at least a month. I do have a cellar and as you can see, it bears a striking resemblance to the natural limestone caves of Cheddar Gorge (although they tend to hide their old pedal bins and decommissioned Thomas the Tank Engines when they’re open to the public):
I did have a vision of my Cheddar wheel on a shelf and me in a white coat, periodically poking it with one of those special cheese-poking sticks. But then the Other Half pointed out a small problem. Well, actually a number of small problems. With big ears and long tails. That live in our cellar. I couldn’t bear going down to investigate but here is an artist’s impression of the problem:
As we all know, I’m no expert on these things but I have a strange feeling that mice and cheese are not a good combination. So, it’s back to the drawing board now. Do I risk the rodents by putting it on a high shelf and hoping they can’t abseil? Or do I plump for the old fridge in the outside toilet where I can control the temperature (but possibly not the mould that makes it smell so bad)? Ah, the everyday decisions of an artisan food producer…
Finally, I have a cunning plan. My mother-in-law is actually a bona fide cheese expert; she has a certificate in her downstairs toilet and everything. She is retired from the dairy industry now but still judges at several of the big UK shows. I expect she has a proper pokey cheese stick stashed away somewhere. In a few weeks’ time I will sneak a slice of Tooting Gold onto her cheeseboard to get her honest verdict (I will try a bit myself first to make sure it’s edible. Poisoning the in-laws is so passé.) Watch this space.
And just for you, one last look at how Tooting Gold is doing, two days later:
Not bad, hey? Pretty darn golden, I’d say. Form an orderly queue for the inaugural tasting, good people of Tooting…
And for anyone who wants to know how the cheddar tasted after six months, step this way…