I choose a cheese to write about in a myriad of different ways. Some I hunt out because I’ve heard great things about them or because they have an intriguing history. Some are given to me by travelling friends. Some I panic buy at the last minute because I’ve just remembered. But this week’s cheese is the first that I’ve bought because I was amused by the fact that it looks like its name.
I saw Millstone at a cheese show and was amazed by its rind; knobbly and yellow, it looked like it could have been carved out of rock, and the wonky-wheel shape of it only added to the illusion that it could actually have been a millstone. Just so you can see what I mean, as a special treat for you this week, I have a photo of its rind in close up, as well as the usual paste and rind combo:
Millstone is a hard, unpasteurised, ewe’s milk cheese, produced by brothers James and David Bartlett at Wootton Organic Dairy on the Somerset Levels. Their farm is called Sunnyside and lies not far from Glastonbury. The Bartlett family have farmed there since the 1960s but it was in 1999 that the brothers decided to diversify their beef cattle production and so bought a batch of Friesland sheep (they now have a flock of some 200 ewes).
At first they weren’t sure what product to concentrate on (milk, yoghurt or cheese) but, following a introduction to cheese-making from farmhouse cheese pioneer Mary Holbrook, they decided on ewe’s milk cheese. They bought the recipe for one of Mary’s ewe’s milk cheeses, Little Ryding, after she decided to specialise in goat’s cheese, and Wootton Organic Dairy was born. The farm has always employed traditional farming methods but was certified organic in 2001; the brothers believe that the resulting abundance of wild flowers and grasses helps to give their cheeses their distinctive flavours.
The Dairy now produces a range of cheeses, from both ewe’s milk and the milk from their small herd of Jersey cows (with some of their cheeses using both types of milk). They make cheese three days a week in a barn they’ve converted into a dairy, producing some 450 cheeses a week. The cheese is hand-made in small batches using traditional methods.
Millstone is unpressed and left to mature for at least three to four months, during which time it develops its distinctive yellow-grey rind (which is really quite tough compared to a lot of rinds). Left to mature for longer, it becomes similar to a Manchego in taste and texture. It’s a nice-tasting cheese, subtle, sweet and a little bit crumbly at first and a bit more sheepy-tasting after a few days (not in an unpleasant way, just a bit of a fleecy sort of tang). And the rind? Well, I must admit that even for a seasoned rind-gobbler such as myself, Millstone defeated me.