Dodging the downpour of Derbyshire snow (this has become a weekly event in February), I managed to dig out the mighty SUBARU to drive from Buxton, through Winnats Pass, Castleton and Hope Valley to meet up with Sophie from Cow Close Farm.

Sophie and her partner James have been on the cheesemaking journey for several years. They enrolled on a variety of courses and traveled the UK and Europe to sample various cheeses. They took time to review dairy setups before investing in their own small scale dairy.

It’s a steep learning curve from the farmhouse kitchen to the market stall. There are many hours of trial and error as well as strict health and safety guidelines in cheese production. Cow Close Farm are living proof that you can make it if you do your research.

Total commitment is required to keep improving the product. Cow Close Farm has experienced success selling cheese at farmers markets and also selling to UK distributors looking for high-quality artisan cheese.

There is distinct creamy goodness in the winter Stanage Millstone cheese which Sophie tells me is down to the happy cows in the neighboring herd safely munching through their rich winter feed. The cheese is ready at 34 days but in my opinion best left a little longer to really enjoy the taste test. The buttery richness can be seen in the lovely golden curd paste when the cheese continues to mature for another two weeks. You can keep the cheese for a further 5 weeks in the fridge. After a couple of months, (technically long after the official sell by date) the creamy flavor is still there. A citrus tang on the finish lets you know that shelf life is over – and that means the lucky pigs get to scoff any left overs.

The make room is spotless. A fabulous last quarter of sales topped off with a fine Christmas. Cow Close Farm is ready for its next batch in 2019 but before Sophie and James get started on this year’s cheese they have been nurturing a new addition to the family! The Summerlin’s are expecting their first baby! There’s a slight pause but cheesemaking will resume and I’ll be the first in line to sample new flavors, and new varieties of cheese later this year.

The Cheese Making Room

Sophie gave me a tour around the room. I’m new to the whole cheese making process and very much still in my home kitchen making cheeses for my family. I’m always careful to sterilise my equipment and kitchen before and after each cheese make. It was a real eye-opener to see how a small artisan cheese producer must create the right environment and be scrupulously clean to create a product fit for market. White wellies, hair nets, every tray, cheese form, worktop, and walls must be sanitised.

Sophie introduced me to a fabulous piece of Pasteurising kit a ‘Mallinson’ simple but effective heating machine bring milk to the right temperature.

From my research, the machine begins the heating process by firstly heating water. Once the optimum temperature is reached the water is released and the raw milk allowed in. The milk is then pumped through the heat exchange plates, boiling water flows on the opposite side of the cold milk plates gradually warming it up to at least 72C. Once the milk is at the correct temperature if flows through a holding tube as it passes through pasteurisation takes place, holding the milk above 72C for at least 15 seconds. The pasteurised milk then returns back through the plates helping warm the cold incoming milk (but not mixing with each other). Simple and effective.

Then the cheese making can begin. Trade secrets on the recipes could be happily shared but there are so many variables that the mind boggles and if you’re hooked you’re already reading up on your rennet, acidity and salt contents.

Lots of further reading information here:

A bit of Cheesy Science
Paul Thomas at time of writing is tutoring cheesemaking courses at the School For Artisan Food
Ivan Larcher also offers the professional Cheesemaking course at the same school. Ivan is a cheese consultant and travels the world advising students and producers of Cheese.
The Courtyard Dairy also has lots of information on cheese making startups

Cheese Tasting Fares and shopping UK:

Derbyshire Food & Drink Fair – Kedleston Hall, Derby
The Cheese Yard Knutsford, Cheshire – owned by Sarah Peak
Hartington Cheese shop stock various artisan cheeses – Hartington, Derbyshire

Derbyshire Farmers Markets an overview from Peak District Online:

French Cheese Tasting Fares and shopping:

Creusois Farm Cheese The Paysou and The Limousin Leaf
Granvillage Overview and so much more to be discovered when we arrive in France!

Images from Cow Close Farm plus the Mighty SUBARU

Get in Touch

If you can recommend a new cheese for me to taste and share at Le Chassaing then please let me know in the comments below.

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