Our tutor today was Chris George of Neal's Yard in London. He started by talking about the history and origin of cheese, followed by a demo of soft cheese making (similar to the goat's cheese I made a couple of weeks ago) and took us through a tutored tasting of French, British, and Irish cheeses. We covered fresh and soft cheeses , mould-ripened cheeses, washed rind cheeses, traditional hard English cheeses, weird new English cheeses, thermophilic cheeses and finally some blue cheeses. We tasted cow's milk, sheep's milk and goat's milk varieties.
We took a couple of hours out after lunch to visit the nearby Stichelton Dairy. This is interesting. Very few British foods have a Protected Designation of Origin status - the equivalent of Appelation Controlee - but Stilton is one of them, and the PDO says that Stilton is made from pasteurised milk. Traditionally this was not the case, although Colston Basset made their Stilton that way until 1987, then gave up because the rules for making unpasteurised cheeses got too onerous. So the big suppliers, who write the PDO rules, said that Stilton was pasteurised.
Neal's Yard went into partnership with a local dairy farmer and with Joe Schneider, an American cheesemaker working in the UK, to make a new, unpasteurised Stilton, but were not allowed to give it that name, so it was called Stichelton - the old name for the village of Stilton, where this famous cheese was first sold. So we got to look around the dairy and I got my first view of what they are like inside. The fresh cheese makes a lovely smell, but as we advanced through the wooden racks containing ever further aged cheese, the pong became ammoniacal and rather overpowering.
Stilton is a beast to make and needs to be handled extremely gently and slowly, not like cheddar, which can be handled roughly and beaten up - in fact the cheddaring process requires it. Stilton is not pressed, but the curd gently settles to a crumbly paste which is aerated with a series of diagonal prongs to allow the blue mould to develop.
I left with a little cheesy doggie bag including the only real Red Leicester still made - Sparkenhoe - and a variety of cheeses from Coolea to Parmesan, Hawes Wensleydale to Comte.
Came home to find definite signs of white mould forming on last week's home-made Caerphilly - this is a GOOD thing - obviously.