An artisan cheesemaker is a little like a wine maker. It takes craft, skill, science and in the end – good taste – to produce cheeses that are true to their kind.
Of course they’ve had centuries of practise. Man has been making cheeses for over 5,000 years when nomadic herdsmen discovered the advantage of preserving the nutritional value of milk into something that didn’t need to eaten straight away.
Although there are hundreds of variations of cheese, they all begin in the same way. Either cow, sheep, goat or buffalo milk is heated (except for example some French traditional cheeses with raw milk) and bacteria is added to produce lactic acid.
At this stage, (some) bacteria types are added to the milk, to ripen and acidify the mixture. Homofermentative Bacteria produces cheddar type cheeses with a clean acid flavour, whereas Heterofermantative Bacteria produces the fruity flavours and eye holes you see in cheeses like Emmental. For cheeses like Camembert, these will have an additional element added called Penicillium, to help form their distinctive white mould later on. To finish this step off, the rennet is then added to create the basic curd, which is common to all cheeses.
It’s only after this step that the real changes take place. They can be scalded, or ‘cheddared’ – then put into moulds lined with cheesecloth and later pressed to remove even more moisture. Or they can be mould ripened or surface ripened. These cheeses are usually transferred to a cheese hoop and allowed to drain by gravity.
For cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort, at this stage they are pierced with stainless steel rods to promote the mould growth that gives them their distinctive blue or green veins
The cheeses are then ripened in caves, cellars, cool rooms – wherever conditions are ideal or certification demands - to create such an amazing variety of tastes, textures, colours and aromas. It’s wonderful to realise they were all made from the one key ingredient. Milk.