Tooting Gold: Judgement Day

home-made cheddar cheese

Anyone who’s been getting their cheesy fix from this blog for a while now will know that in the bowels of my house, amongst the old abs toners and rusting tins of paint, lives a home-made cheddar which goes by the name of Tooting Gold (or more affectionately E-Colin, or Colin for short). Colin was made in June 2013. I’d been learning about cheese for about six weeks when I thought it would be interesting to see for myself how it’s made and so, with zero knowledge about milk, cultures, rennet, temperatures, acidity, timings, hygiene, maturation or indeed pretty much any aspect of cheese-making, I plunged right in there and tried to make a cheddar. Not an easy ricotta or even a little chèvre. Oh no. A cheddar, which requires rennet and cultures and cheddaring and moulding and maturing and all manner of what-not.

But I had high hopes for Colin. He looked so perfect when he came out of his press:

Tooting Gold cheddar cheese home cheese-making

And quite quickly he started to form a nice rind:

home-made cheddar cheese

Colin survived a number of potential disasters. First, we had mice in the cellar but luckily Colin was on a high shelf and covered by the highly-technical protection device of an old sieve sellotaped to a plate. Fortunately the mice were soon seen off when the mains drain for our entire street backed up into our garden and subsequently into our cellar. Again, Colin was saved by his high vantage point; we mere mortals on the other hand found it quite difficult to get anyone to accept our barbeque invitations for several weeks. It was a humid summer and Colin got a bit sweaty and broke out in a foul-looking grey-black mould slight rash:

home-made cheddar cheese mould

A solution of brine water and some scrubbing soon had Colin back on his feet again, only for me to find him covered in mites one day (don’t worry, no photos available). I got quite excited for a while, thinking that perhaps they were cheese mites and I could produce the UK’s first version of Mimolette, but then I realised that they weren’t microscopic and so were probably just common or garden mites. Euch. Again with the salt water and all was well. Fortunately Colin’s rind was such that it was going to take a mite with a claw hammer to get through to the good stuff.

I never meant to let Colin mature for six months. I was so excited to have made a cheese-resembling object that I was dying to try a nibble. But then I visited a proper cheese-maker and was gob-smacked by the attention that has to be paid to hygiene. I started reading about the fact that young cheeses can harbour all kind of nasties and started to get a bit paranoid that I might kill someone. Plus, of course, all the best cheddars are aged for a loooong time, much longer than six months in fact. And so it was that six months passed, Colin acquired his own little house and started to look like he’d quite got his cheesy little feet under the table:

cheese cave

But, as Christmas and a trip to my cheese-judging mother-in-law approached, Colin’s days were numbered. It was time for the big reveal.

My mother-in-law worked in the dairy industry right up until her retirement, her job being to ensure that cheese was in tip-top condition and not likely to polish anyone off. She now judges at many of the big UK shows like Frome and Nantwich and in her time has awarded all manner of baubles and bangles, including Supreme Champion. I am preserving her anonymity here as imagine how dreadful it would be if our family were to be deluged with cheese bribes if I revealed her identity. However, in case anyone doubts the truth of my story, here is proof in the form of various cheese-judging paraphernalia:

20131226_131421

cheese judging

So it was that Colin took his place on the festive cheeseboard in front of Mrs Cheese Judge, who was at this point unaware of any family involvement in the cheese’s genesis. It was a strangely emotional moment when I started cutting, as if one my children was finally flying the nest, but tears of pathos soon turned to sweat beads of frustration as I tried and failed to get through the rind. It cannot be denied that Colin was a little on the hard side; and I’m not talking about a firm rind that gives way beneath the knife to reveal the soft and supple paste within. I am talking brain-a-burglar hard. Here I am, attempting entry:

home-made cheddar cheese cutting

Finally I was through and Colin’s interior was revealed. It looked a little on the dry and flaky side compared to cheddar but at this point I hoped that perhaps it had aged so well that it would have the crystalline, crunchy inside of a vintage gouda or gruyère (even though I know full well that this takes a lot longer than six months…):

home-made cheddar cheese interior

Mrs Cheese Judge inspected a piece between her fingers. ‘It’s a six month old cheddar,’ I explained. Mrs Cheese Judge shook her head slowly. ‘No.’ She took a nibble. ‘Oh dear.’ Things weren’t looking good and she had a point; Colin, I’m sad to say, tasted like that dried up old bit of cheap cheese that you find at the back of the fridge when you’re a student. Mrs Cheese Judge’s verdict continued: ‘I’m not quite sure what the concept is. As a cheddar, it’s too thin. There’s a certain soapiness to it…the balance of salt is okay…there are no off-flavours but no, just no. It’s a grating cheese, not an eating cheese.’ My burgeoning career as a cheese-maker in tatters, I looked for consolation with the question: ‘Have you ever judged a worse cheese?’ The news was better. ‘Oh God, yes. You get some awful cheeses, ones where you have to grab another judge and say “You just have to taste this!” I’ve tasted way worse than this.’ Phew.

At this point we revealed the producer of Tooting Gold/Colin and Mrs Cheese Judge, being a very nice mother-in-law, sought to find positives, my particular favourite being, ‘I mean, if you’d been in a foreign prison camp for several years then this would be just the ticket!’ Not quite the quote I was looking for to put on my marketing material, it has to be said. And her husband’s offer to ‘take it off your hands for mouse-traps in the shed’ wasn’t quite what I was looking for either. Feedback was constructive though: that such a thin cheddar was never going to age well, that it’s hard to make decent cheese on such a small scale and that using Jersey milk was a no-no for cheddar and similar hard cheeses because the fat globules are too large. A week later I received a letter with a p.s. that said, ‘Don’t let anyone denigrate your cheddar – it was a good effort!’ A kind judge indeed (or maybe just a kind mother-in-law; I’m not sure she sends a personalised missive to everyone whose cheese doesn’t make the grade).

It’s a shame that Colin wasn’t a delicious, fruity, tangy, farmhouse cheese but then, to be honest, given my complete idiocy and the trials and tribulations he underwent, it was a surprise he was edible and that we didn’t end up in A & E for New Year, vomiting through our nostrils. I’ve learned so much about cheese-making since when I made him but to be honest I’m not sure I could do much better a second time around. It takes not only technical expertise to make a decent cheese but also an element of craft and an absolute dedication to the cause. I also think I’m too impatient to wait it out for the requisite amount of time. Now Stilton, on the other hand, only needs to age for nine weeks…;)

Happy Fromage Friday! And if anyone’s making a record-breaking risotto this weekend and needs a kilo of ‘grating cheese’, make me an offer; I can’t bear to throw Colin’s remains away, so he’s still in the fridge.

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50 Comments

Filed under home cheese-making

50 responses to “Tooting Gold: Judgement Day

  1. Pingback: Tooting Gold II: Further Adventures in Home Cheese-Making | Fromage Homage

  2. And so, farewell E-Colin…you must be bereft! Thanks for this post, gave me a real “truckle-chuckle” and admire your bravery for allowing such a firm but fair judge to have the first taste.

  3. Everyone on the bus just stared at me for laughing – gotta love Mrs Cheese Judge! In a way its maybe a blessing that Colin wasn’t the first Champion Cheese of Tooting, or you’d have to flood the back yard and get mice for every batch. Well done though – good luck with Tooting Number Two :D

  4. Colin, such a nice name for a cheese. Perhaps you should change Tooting to Trevor for the next batch until you get a real Tooting Gold. Must commend Mrs Cheese Judge on her tact, but then I guess she has had plenty of practice.

    AV

  5. A valiant attempt, but think of it as lessons learned. It is hard to age a small cheese over a longer period of time. Well done though. Keep at it.

    • Yes, many lessons learnt. I am pretty rubbish at the whole cheese-making business but perhaps something like a Caerphilly – how wrong can you go? (Haha, very, I suspect…) Thank you for the words of encouragement. Your creations are very inspiring.

  6. Ha! I loved this story! My first cheese was a block of harden milk that had the texture of soap. I found home “cheese caves” are incredibly temperamental and you need to help the little cheeses along with some extra insulation. I wrap most of my cheeses in a double layer of cheese cloth smeared with butter or lard to help reduce the moisture lose that creates an over-hardening of the cheese.
    http://www.culinarypen.com/2009/11/cloth-bound-cheddar.html

    Keep the wheels coming in the New Year!

    • Thanks for that – I will check out the link when I am back to my computer. I did think about cloth and lard but it all looked a bit tricky so used some horrible gloop that looked and smelled like PVC glue. I need to pluck up the courage to try again!

  7. I don’t know about vomiting through the nostrils but I snorted tea down my nose when I read this. Poor E-Colin! Maybe you could get him a walk-on role in the local pantomime.
    Grating cheese – is that like cooking sherry? Because if so I could get to like it.

  8. it’s fascinating to read how much work is put into one cheese. I’m sure you’ll do better next time! :)

  9. This is the best post I’ve read all week, possibly month. Such suspense all the way through, and those comments from Mrs Cheese Judge are pure gold.

  10. Well it looks like Colin grew up to have a personality of its own. Nothing wrong with that!

  11. Thank God I wasn’t eating or drinking when I read this! You would have had to visit me in St George’s otherwise, bearing grapes of contrition and possibly a sliver of Colin! I have snorted my way through the trials and tribulations that were the making of Colin and can only cheer you on in your quest for Stilton – Tooting Blue anyone?

  12. Brilliant write up – I too am in mourning for a cheese that should have been brilliant but singularly failed to make the grade. At least I don’t have to contend with a cheese judge (other than the dog) in the family. As for Linda’s comments – I will eventually produce a Bang! to redress the balance, there are some suspicious characters maturing in the caves.

    Thank you for your fabulous cheese blogging, and do try again I can’t wait to see son of e-Colin.

  13. I’m planning to make up a batch of Crowdie in the next week or so; I’ll swap you some if you’re feeling game? Although 6 months of honing a cheese Vs a few hours for a soft cheese (or a few days for a pressed version) doesn’t quite seem fair on you! Valiant effort and looking forward to hearing about Mark II, whatever that should be.

    • Happy to swap though suspect you’ll be the one getting the dodgy deal! Is Crowdie the one you roll in oats? Sounds good; I look forward to hearing how it goes. Hope all is well with you and yours – Happy New Year!

  14. Could you maybe cut the rind off and freeze a little bit of Colin? That way he will be with you forever!

  15. I do like the way you’ve told this story – a shame Colin didn’t turn out as you’d hoped! Still, I don’t know anyone who has even attempted to make their own cheese before so it’s impressive nonetheless!

  16. Years ago I also tried to make my own cheese! Not anything I
    will try again. First i spilled some of the milk I got from a farm in the car, not a new car smell after that! In the end my cheese looked good……but, the taste…something went very wrong there :- (Thanks for the likes)

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  18. oh I just loved this post. What an exciting journey! I am not sure I could wait even 6 months. I was there picturing this cheese the whole time. thank you for this wonderful post and story.

    jeffrey
    http://www.vittledeedee.com

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  24. This post has made me snort aloud laughing at the end of a long and tiring day. Thank you!

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