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 eleventh of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.

The darkest hour truly does come before the dawn.  In my July update, the outlook for grazing was bleak.  But the weather now appears to have broken.  We have had enough rain to get the grass growing again – so we should squeeze through August without having to buy hay.  Our season was shortened by about a week, so we can count ourselves lucky compared to many farmers, who are consuming their winter forage stores to feed their animals.

This week we attended The Science of Artisan Cheese Conference, at the home of Montgomery Cheddar (pictured) in Somerset.  The conference brings together scientists, farmers, cheesemakers, industry professionals and regulators to explore what evidence-based factors are important for making good artisan cheese. 

My two favourite sessions were:

An account of a project from Auvergne (the home of Salers cheese).  They had co-designed a dairy farm with citizens and were testing practices that match citizen expectations.  The citizens wanted traditional local breeds, cows on pasture, and calves raised by their mothers.  By and large they seemed to have achieved this with a 30-35% drop in milk production – although the herd of cows was small (30).

Details of a project from University of Connecticut, analysing three seemingly identical raw milk cheeses, made to the same recipe in three different dairies in New England.  The project looked at what microbes were in the cheese and where they had come from, using DNA. It is microbes which define the flavour of a cheese. The cheeses were remarkably different in microbial make up. The milk, the rennet, the dairy and the cheesemaker all had significant microbial input into the flavour of the cheese, and because these differed, the cheeses differed.

In the conference breaks I had conversations with two cheesemakers from Northwest Wales, two Somerset cheddar makers, an expert on rare breeds, a vet and a research scientist from France, a farmer from Cumbria – running a calf-at-foot dairy at scale, and a couple of passionate cheesemakers from New England. 

At the height of the pandemic my daughter’s choirmaster said “I know that everyone is talking about the new normal, but I would like to return to the old normal as fast as possible”.   To be at a conference like this was uplifting and inspiring, and it really feels like the old normal is back.

Hugh and Pippa Stables


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