A visit to Hampshire cheeses

I’ve been a bit absent lately. It’s been hectic finishing up work and packing up our life in London. But, before leaving, I got the chance to visit Hampshire Cheeses.

It still surprises me that in the space of 45 minutes, you can can go from the stop-start mess of south-west London traffic to the crisp winter green of the countryside, in this case, the village of Herriard.

Herriard is the home of Hampshire Cheeses, a small artisan cheese company that produces Tunworth, a soft white mould, Camembert-style cheese. Started by Stacey Hodges, it has grown from a home-based beginnings to a much larger, purpose-built facility. Still a small operation, a team of 5 do everything by hand: the cheese-making, salting, turning, packaging and…the extensive and essential cleaning.

When I arrived at around 9.30am, work had already been underway for a few hours, with yesterday’s cheeses removed from their moulds, salted and placed into the drying room. Today’s milk had also been collected from a nearby farm, warmed and cultured and was ready to be pumped into the waiting troughs and renneted.

Once the rennet was added, the waiting began. So as the curds set over a number of hours, the focus shifted to wrapping and packaging cheeses made a few weeks before. Boxing cheeses sounds simple enough but I definitely fail on efficiency (I think I was probably boxing 3 cheeses compared to 10).

Back in the cheese-making room, once the curds had a clean break it was time for cutting, stirring and moulding. It was so different to see this on a real scale (my 5 litre pot in the kitchen doesn’t even compare) and so much more physical. With clean arms, I was able to reach into the warm whey and separate the small pieces curds, breaking up the larger chunks and ensuring movement.

Hundreds of molds were piled up and as fast as the curds are poured in, they drop, expelling why into the waiting trays and drains. Once they are all full, they sit and settle, before being flipped over the drain evenly. They’ll stay this way overnight, waiting for the process to begin again.

Seeing cheese production on a real scale was a great and I want to say thank you to Stacey, Charlotte, Neil, Sharon and Danny for letting me try to help and answering my many questions. It makes me realise how far my cheese-making has to go.

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