Saturday, 13 November 2010


Sheep! I hadn’t seen that many in these parts, and being a Cumbrian was starting to feel a little lost. But a short distance away from our caves is Richard, a humble farmer who gave up his job as an accountant to buy 30 hectares of land. Of that, his sheep (60) take up 20 hectares, 10 hectares is vineyard, and a little restaurant adjoins the farm, which he runs at only the weekend. A jack of all trades, and after tasting his cheese, his wine and his restaurant food - he’s a master of them all too!

I was here to help him make cheese for the day; as per usual I hoped to pick up the little tricks and trips that will help me on my cheesy quest. Only a tiny amount of cheese is made at Richard’s each day, and Mons pretty much takes it all – which is great for Richard as he can concentrate on the farm. One of the reasons external affineurs are important is that they allows the farmer to concentrate on the farm and increasing quality of production. Affineurs concentrate on ageing the product properly and take responsibility for the tricky task of selling the cheese. Selling the cheese takes a lot of time for a farmer – visiting farmers’ markets, searching for clients, delivering – all these take time that can be better spent on the farm!

The day starts early as the sheep are milked in his small parlour; they are of the Lacaune breed (identical to that used for Roquefort) – their milk is of very high quality and a great flavour, which comes through in the cheese. Richard doesn’t have to add very much salt at all to bring out the flavour. After milking we put the sheep back in the fields and set about adding the ferment and rennet. Then yesterday’s cheeses were removed from their moulds, salted and set to dry. The newly set curd was moulded and I was finished for the day (Richard was off to tend the vines and sheep). Easy peasy!

But that’s only because he has this technique honed down, and I was working with a man who definitely knows his land and his animals. We made one of the last batches of the year: the sheep will soon stop producing milk (breeding up until lambing) for 5-6 months. All sheep’s milk cheeses are seasonal like this. Many producers, however, freeze the milk (or keep the cheeses at really low temperatures) to have cheeses out of season – be wary of these cheeses: their flavour and texture is much poorer. Hervé sent a load back to one producer this week as we could tell it was frozen milk when it arrived: it simply doesn’t age, taste and feel the same.

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