Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Monkland cheese

During our holiday in Herefordshire, we had the privilege of visiting a very small cheese-making "factory" in the village of Monkland, near Leominster. For the modest sum of £2.50 each we were able to participate in a guided tour of the whole cheese-making process, which we saw at very close quarters, from start to finish. It was fascinating. I'm not going to attempt to describe the cheese-making process in detail, because it was quite complicated - and in any case, each cheese variety is made in a slightly different way, but I hope I will be able to give you an impession of how it is done....

This is a tub containing about 400 litres of curds-and-whey,which is what you get when you add an enzyme like rennet to heated milk.


The curds are cut into little chunks by this piece of machinery with revolving blades.


Here are the curds (solids) being separated from the whey (liquid), using a flexible piece of gauze.



I was pleased to hear that the whey, which is basically a waste product of the cheese-making, is not wasted at all. It collected by a local famer, who feeds it to his pigs. Now that is a Win-Win arrangement. The farmer gets free pig-food, and the cheesemakers don't have to pay to dispose of their waste.

The curds are scooped-up using some surprisingly unsophisticated equipment - plastic colanders:


After being placed in moulds and subjected to a variety of process stages aimed at removing the moisture, using mechanical presses, the embryonic cheeses are eventually formed into hard discs which are then left to mature on wooden shelves for various periods up to five months, in conditions that are intended to replicate a cave environment - cool, dark and humid. This encourages them to form a rind and grow benign moulds which give the cheese its tangy flavour.

Young "Little Hereford" cheeses
 
Mature "Little Hereford" cheeses

At this cheese factory they make three main varieties of cheese, all using unpasteurised cow's milk: "Monkland", a full-fat hard cheese with a crumbly texture, similar to Lancashire cheese; "Little Hereford", a harder type, similar in texture to Cheddar cheese; and "Blue Monk", a soft blue somewhat reminiscent of Dolcelatte. Naturally enough, we bought a little of each, which formed a significant element of our next dinner. Here's a pic:

Clockwise from tomatoes: Monkland, Blue Monk and Little Hereford
As you can see in the picture above, we ate the cheese with some Scandanavian-style crispbreads, which were perfect for the occasion. The mild rye flavour of the crispbread was particularly good with the Blue Monk - as was the bottle of 'Cono Sur' Gewurtztraminer wine! [Here's a thought; the "Blue Monk" cheese would also pair exceedingly well with the sweet "Blue Nun" Liebfraumilch wine from Germany!]. For a lunchtime snack I don't think you could do better than a "Ploughman's Lunch" with Little Hereford cheese and a glass of Dunkerton's "Black Fox" cider, made only a mile away from Pembridge where we stayed  - perhaps five miles from the Monkland cheese factory.



I'm an avid cheese-lover, and for me it is so nice to be able to get a real "artisan" product, as opposed to a mass-produced one. We used to think that Britain only produced one decent cheese (i.e. Cheddar) but these days I think we are are on a par with France for the quality and sheer variety of our cheeses.

10 comments:

  1. Looks like it was a good day out and the cheese looks divine. When I had my smallholding I kept a herd of goats and used to make a curd cheese with the surplus milk. It is the simplest form of cheesemaking but nice with it.

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  2. Yum, that cheese looks wonderful. What a fascinating tour of the cheese "factory".

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  3. How interesting! I would have loved to see the cheese made. When I was a kid we used to get what I consider "real" cheese (not from the supermarket) but I haven't had any since. I did try to make my own once with not so good results. Need more practice and better materials).

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  4. Weeeheee on par with the French and their cheese he Mark... Ooo I'd like to see you say that to a Frenchman's face, you know how proud they are of their food :)

    I remember when I first went to France being amazed by the aisles in the supermarket devoted to cheese... here we just have a little stand or two.

    I love the process and the cheeses look delicious... and I am very envious of your day out... we have some cheese making places not that far from where we live, I will have to organise a weekend away to visit, I think the boys would love it.

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  5. I love British cheeses, although I could never really enjoy Stilton - too pungent for my taste buds. A good cheddar though is one of the best foods in the world in my book. These look delicious as well.

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  6. I adore cheese, I love that it can be used in so many different ways, but there's nothing nicer than having a chunk in your hand to just nibble on. Congratulations on your first blog anniversary.

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  7. Sounds like a wonderful trip and that meal looks so good.:)

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  8. Great post and I love so much to eat cheese.

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  9. Looks worth a visit,Cheese looks fab and only one and half hour drive from my Home!

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  10. A place to visit then... I sometimes travel past Leominster to visit friends a little further on and have always wanted to stop as Black Fox cider is one of my absolute favourites-thank goodness Waitrose now stock it. Now I must definitely make a cheese and cider detour next time I go up that way! I’ve been very fortunate to have done several cheese tastings with Charlie Westhead of Neal’s Yard who now lives near Hereford. His cheeses are sublime!

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