Hugh and Pippa Stables run Wandering Ewe Dairy in North Somerset. They produce a hard, unpasteurised, ewes’ milk cheese from their own flock of sheep. 2021 was their third year of commercial cheese production. This is the fifth of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.
Whilst producing our flagship Wandering Ewe hard cheese is our main priority for this summer, we are keen to push the boundaries of what it means to be artisan cheesemakers. Why? We want to make original, unique, great tasting cheese, that is tied to this area of North Somerset. We also have a slight libertarian streak. No desire to live in a bunker in Utah with guns, but we would like to make cheese with the smallest possible external dependencies.
So we will make some production cheeses with natural starter cultures. At the beginning of a cheese make, the milk needs to be acidified. Typically this is done with commercially produced starter cultures. But 100 years ago, farmers in Somerset would have left the evening milk to sour overnight and then added the morning milk, before making cheese. We will make about ¼ of our hard cheese using a modified version of this technique.
We will also make some production cheeses with cardoon rennet. Rennet is used to coagulate the milk. Cardoon (pictured) is an artichoke-like thistle common in Spain and Portugal. We have been growing small crops since 2019 and harvesting the petals. In 2021 we trialled a washed rind soft cheese, made with cardoon. It tasted extremely good. We have some local cheese mongers who would be happy to take them.
There are many challenges to overcome. Above all we need to be safe – so we will be sending a lot of batches to the lab for testing, which is expensive. We will need approval from our environmental health officer, which may not be easy. Making consistent cheese is also a challenge. But this is our fourth year of production; we have done and lot of the ground work; we are well qualified and we believe well placed and well prepared.
I am conscious of the story of Biddy Fraser Davies – in New Zealand. She had been making raw milk cheeses for 7 years. One night she was featured in a documentary, which was broadcast on New Zealand TV. Shortly after the program ended she received an email, from a government department, effectively shutting her down. The story eventually ended well, but perhaps I will just switch off my phone for few days …..
Text and Images (C) Hugh & Pippa Stables @wandering.ewe
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