What makes your product special? The roots of Ayrshire cheese are found in the 17th century. In 1690, a farmer’s daughter and Covenanter from Ayrshire, Barbara Gilmour, started to produce this type of cheese (a mile from this very farm) till then unknown in Scotland, with huge success. She settled in the village of Dunlop where she made and taught the techniques of making this ‘sweetmilk’ cheese that became known as Dunlop. Her whole milk recipe creates a superior cheese – previously only skimmed milk had been used, a by-product of butter making. Not only is Dunlop famous for its cheese but the Ayrshire cow, first bred in the parish, was formerly known as the Dunlop cow. An English pamphleteer and journalist, William Cobbett appreciated this cheese indicating its equal quality to any cheese from Cheshire, Gloucestershire or Wiltshire. Dunlop Dairy makes this heritage cheese in small batches using traditional methods. Many of Ann’s Ayrshire cows have been bred from generations going back over 50 years.
Who cares about it? In our current food climate, processing, conformity, capacity and consistency are buzz words often used in our industrialization of foods, and Dunlop is no different. Consumers who care about the environment, nature and biodiversity wish to source traditional cheese.
Is it hard to find? Why? In Scotland cheesemaking would have been an everyday event on farms across the land but thanks to clearances they were decimated. Add two world wars and small-scale cheese production virtually vanished. In Scotland’s rich food culture it is to be celebrated that we have a growing number of cheesemakers again and they value our support. Dunlop is specific to this region, small scale, with traditional breed of cow to that area.
What factors make it at risk of being forgotten and/or extinction? Scotland is down to one cheesemaker making this famous local traditional cheese. Local production had closed down completely by 1940 and Ann has single-handedly resurrected it.
What does it taste like? Dunlop is a mild, sweet, buttery tasting cheese made from the pasteurised milk of cows from Ayrshire breed. Traditional Ayrshire Dunlop is hard-pressed not unlike cheddar but more moist. When young and mild it has a nutty flavour with a smooth, close texture. As it matures it develops a good strength with a slight sharpness and becomes a harder cheese.
How is it produced? It is mostly but not exclusively made with vegetarian rennet and pasteurised milk. Although Ann traditionally made her Dunlop with raw milk, Environmental Health legislation makes this increasingly challenging. Milk is placed in a vat where the starter culture is added and left to ripen for an hour. Milk from Ayrshire cows has smaller fat globules than other breeds that allow an ease of incorporation of fat into the curd. Rennet is added and left for 40-50 minutes. The resultant curd is cut – the skills of the cheesemaker determining the correct time for cutting. The temperature of the vat is raised to 38 C – again it takes skill to determine at which point to cease stirring the curds. Once settled, the whey is drained off and the curd put through a pegmill and returned to the vat for salting. Sea salt is added by hand and the resultant curd is placed in moulds and pressed overnight. They are then scalded and wrapped in cloth bandages. They mature on wooden shelves in a cheese store, regularly monitored and turned. At 6 months it is a mild cheese and it matures at 12 to 14 months. It must be kept in a dry place and be frequently turned upside-down.
Clerkland was one of many good dairy farms stocked with Ayrshire cows until the late 1960s when milk production stopped and it sadly fell into disrepair. Ann’s family bought the farm and worked hard to repair not only the house but also the original steading. The cows are still milked in the existing old byre and the adjoining dairy buildings have been hygienically clad to house cheese production. The barn, inscribed with a lintel dated 1766, is now the cheese shop and the old stone shed with 2 feet thick stone walls ideal for storing cheese!