In the latest of our series of small producer masterclasses we joined Philip Wilton, owner of Wildes Cheese, to get a fascinating insight into the world of cheese. Over the next 2 hours we followed the production process of St Bruce, one of Philip's most popular cheeses, as its turned from milk into a fully formed cheese.
After a quick welcome we get straight down to business as Rudolfo poured the culture into the heated milk, which started to acidify the milk and ultimately help it develop the cheese's wonderful, mellow buttery flavour.
As this is done Philip explains of course that this is not just any old milk, but directly sourced (Philip takes almost all the farm's milk) from a 50 strong herd of outdoor grazing cows in Rye, Kent. It has a higher fat content and a richer flavour that comes straight from nature - no growth hormones & no stalling, and because the herd is so small there is natural variation in the flavour of the milk as the grass and flowers in the cows diet changes through the year. If we needed proof he then passes round a cup of 'proper' milk, and one from the local supermarket. No comparison.
Philip then explains in more detail how the ageing process works, talking us through the '7 ages of St Bruce cheese': 7 cheeses, all at different stages of the process. As it drys, the cheese initially firms, before the bacteria inside start to develop gases which create that delicious light texture. This expands the cheese, and after 4 weeks it is given a beer wash, which again takes the bacteria in a slightly different direction for the last 2 weeks of the process.
As the culture continues to do its thing - the longest part of the process - we then get a tour of Philip's micro dairy. He's only just moved in as growth over the last couple of years has required bigger premises and although great news, this also gave him a problem - how to move the ageing room? Each dairy has its own unique character driven by the mix of bacteria and moulds and this is what gives each cheese its' unique flavour profile. In Philip's case this has taken 3 years to develop & leaving it behind simply was not an option.
We see the rennet go into the milk, which separates the curds from the whey, and are then treated to a tasting of the full range of Philip's cheese. Frankly they were all delicious, but highlights for me were of course the mild, buttery St Bruce; Highcross, a Queso Freso style with salty, lemony notes; a fresh curd served with wild garlic pesto (yum!); Howard, a 'white blue' - super creamy, with a delicate blue aftertaste; and of course Alexandra - the first cheese Philip made, with a smooth, more mature style and recent bronze medal winner in the 2014 World cheese awards. Then back to St Bruce production...
We all get a chance to get involved - cutting the curds, stirring under the watchful eye of Rudolfo, and tasting the curds as they develop in texture and subtleties of flavour over the next 1/2 hour. Then finally its time to drain the whey and start shaping the cheese - a very delicate process as no pressure is applied. The cheese almost shapes itself, and after 10 minutes its ready to turn out to everyone's delight.
A truly fascinating evening, and fantastic to see a team of great artisans at work, producing great cheese by hand in the heart of the city.
"Another great event. Amazing cheese and experience."
"Amazing I had a super time and feel I have learned a lot."
"A very entertaining and tasty evening - thanks the cheesy chappies!"
"Amazing! Philip and his team were great, it was really fun getting to be part of the process and of course the cheese was delicious :)"
Due to popular demand we will be repeating this masterclass in coming weeks, as well as announcing dates for other tours and courses on bread chocolate & cake. To the first to hear the dates have a look at our meet up group at the link below or subscribe to our newsletter.