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Quicke's Slow Food Cheddar (page 2 of 2)

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My visit of Quicke's Dairy in Devonshire, the largest of the nine remaining producers of real farmhouse cheddar, or how to produce world class traditional cheddar on a large scale.
Page1  2  

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Malcolm and his crew are busy shovelling the milled curds with their tridents ...

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...while another sprinkles salt over the curds. You just can't add salt before the curds are drained as it would kill any bacterial action and stop the acidity from increasing. The salt drains a little more whey out of the already rather dry curds bits.

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More salt - 2.5 pounds for 1000 gallons of milk ...

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... and then some serious shovelling by Jo Alport and Malcolm Mitchell.

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Metallic cheddar forms have been cleaned and lined with fine cheese cloth.

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Filling the forms seems like good fun after all the hard work - one man with a shovel, the other pushes the curds in ...

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... while the third man ties the cheesecloth on top.

The forms are stacked on top of each other, then squeezed by a giant piston to get dense cheeses and drain off whatever whey was left.

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The cheeses are then dipped in hot brine the next day, then covered in lard. Out of 1000 gallons they make about 17 cheeses of 50 pounds each approximately. Each batch bears the production date and a unique color. Two cheeses out of each batch will be tasted at regular intervals to check quality.

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Click on the pictures above for three 360° panoramas of the various maturing vaults at Quicke's. There is a rather unique ambience and delicate cheese smell in this temperature controlled rooms - 10°C maximum and 90% relative humidity all year round. Cheeses are stacked up on wooden shelves and left for 12 months or more. Traditional cheddar is not the business to make a quicke buck, as you must work with the quantity of milk your cows are willing to produce and then wait a full year before you can sell.

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As the cheese ages, the flavor inside develops and becomes more complex, much like a wine. Cheese really is a noble product where you can taste and infinity of differences in the hands that worked its curds, in the milk he was born from and what the cows have grazed. Unfortunately, a cheese rind is an ideal place for spores, mushrooms and yeasts of all kinds to breed. As the cheese ages, you can see colored spots develop around a single airborne spore that landed there.

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The lard offers good protection against yeasts and mushrooms and can be washed. This is not much of a problem.

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At the end of the day, English cheesemakers have only two ennemies. The EU bureaucrat, and the cheese mite, and they now have joined forces to drive cheesemakers crazy.

Cheese mites are universally despised by cheesemakers. Since the EU banned a certain chemical that was used to stem the number of mites, cheesmakers are reduced to spray a little ozone over their cheeses. Others rub the cheese rind by hand to obliterate any microscopic holes the mites could use to get in. This doesn't work so well and the mites flourish. There is just no quicke fix. Now the mites even have time to ponder deep philosophical issues:

The cheese-mites asked how the cheese got there,
And warmly debated the matter;
The Orthodox said that it came from the air,
And the Heretics said from the platter.
They argued it long and they argued it strong,
And I hear they are arguing now;
But of all the choice spirits who lived in the cheese,
Not one of them thought of a cow.

(Arthur Conan Doyle)

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Here are the remains of a cheese mite banquet, with the rind eaten away one inch thick. You can cut off the damaged rind, but the mites let in air that helps all sorts of unsavory microorganism develop. You won't ever see it in the fine cheeses sold by Quicke's farm, but much goes to waste.

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A gentleman showed me an example of a much damaged rind with a hole inside. All of this needs to be carved out before it reaches the shelves. I asked what they do with the damaged cheese Aye, we sell it to a guy. What he does with it is ... umentionable.

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More cutting and sorting...

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... then the cheese is packed and sent off to the clients. Quicke's sells a third of the 500 tons of cheese it makes every year abroad, a third to British supermarkets (Sainsbury, Tesco, Waitrose, Asda) and the rest to independent cheesemongers through a couple wholesalers.

I tasted all of the cheeses made at Quicke's and warmly recommend their Mature, Extra Mature and Vintage Cheddars, all excellent. They also do a very nice smoked Cheddar and one mixed with herbs. I don't mean to cut Mary to the quick, but I really did not like her raw milk 10-month-old Cheddar - too acidic. But it might turn out to be a great cheese in a year's time - who knows? Now don't take my word for it, Quicke's has a large cupboard filled with all sorts of serious cheese awards.

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Quicke's farm is located in gorgeous Devon countryside. The buildings bear no relation to Tchernobyl besides their looks.

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The church in next-door village Crediton was the seat of the first Christian bishop in England and is one of the highlight of Devon.

Quicke's
www.quickes.co.uk
Newton St Cyres, Devon
EX5 5AY, England
+44 (0) 1392 851222
Farm and cheese shop (Monday to Saturday, 9AM to 5PM)

The Beer Engine
www.thebeerengine.co.uk
Newton St Cyres, Exeter, EX5 5AX
4 minutes from Quicke's, this is the place to stop for lunch, with friendly staff and decent grub. They even brew their own beer in the back.

Neal's Yard
www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk
Cheesemonger with shops in Britain and the US that stocks Quicke's cheddars as well as many other fine British cheeses.

Published 17/07/2008
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26 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Saxit
  • on: 17/07/2008
Did you know that there are actually at least two cheeses flavoured with cheese mites? German Milbenkäse and the French Mimolette.
Wonderful tour!
  • #3
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
  • on: 17/07/2008
Top class piece.
You can get quality foods in Britain but its not cheap or easy to find.

I thought cheese mites were part and parcel of the cheese making process. Mature Stilton is disgusting with them.

Paul

  • #4
  • Comment by JD
  • on: 17/07/2008
more articles on Cheese Please! Love this stuff as I'm from Wisconsin the land of cheeseheads!
great article. got two questions.

Were you able to learn what type of starter they use? You wrote yogurt like starter, but i doubt they use yogurt making bacteria.

what do they do with the whey? is there an english ricotta perhaps?

I'd love to see a similar article on cheese making in the cheese paradise of the world. switzerland i mean.
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 17/07/2008
Saxit, yes I saw that on Wikipedia, I guess they don't include a microscopic shot of the cheese on in the commercials for Mimolette, might turn a few people off!
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 17/07/2008
TechSamaritan, thanks for your visit!
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 17/07/2008
Paul, the first instance of cinematic censorship in Britain was a movie showing microscope shots of cheese mites feasting on a Stilton rind. The Stilton producer union had it banned by fear of ... a slump in sales!
  • #9
  • Comment by Nate
  • on: 17/07/2008
Thank you so much for taking us on this illuminating excursion behind the scenes.

BTW, I love Mimolette!  But I love a cave-aged Cheddar even more.
Thank you so much for this behind the scenes tour. I found it fascinating, educational, and mouth watering :) :)
  • #11
  • Comment by louise
  • on: 19/07/2008
It's so nice to see someone advertise that some British food is great! You have to hunt for it, but it is there!

It's a shame that the word "cheddar" is now so devalued that people assume that it's only ever used for cheap and nasty processed "cheese".
  • #12
  • Comment by Jules
  • on: 22/07/2008
Thank you for a very interesting article. I love Quickes cheese and am very lucky that my local farm shop sells it.
I love your huge pictures and the sense of the experience that you share. Cheddar cheese is a personal favorite. I love cheddars from Vermont and also have some serious cheese-lust for Washington State University's "Cougar Gold."
  • #14
  • Comment by Luke
  • on: 22/07/2008
Are cheese mites really that bad? I mean, what about mimolette and milbenkäse?

That said, excellent tour, and the photos are beautiful as always.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Luke, cheese mites dig tunnels that lets air and all sorts of molds inside the cheese. You end up with dark, stinking veins when you cut the cheese, courtesy of Cheese Mite Tunnelers Inc.
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Barnaby, thanks for visiting! Cheddar saves quite well, you might be able to buy a small one and make it your stash for a couple months. I think you can buy some online at Neils' Yardin the US, certainly not cheap though!
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Jules, thanks for visiting, I hope you get to visit Quicke's one day, lovely people all of them!
  • #18
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Louise, Britain has lots of fine ingredients but lacks a culture to use them properly, although this is changing with the TV chef rage. I think the future will be tastier!
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Aptronym, thanks for visiting!
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/07/2008
Nate, don't get near a microscope when eating Mimolette, or you might loose your appetite!
  • #21
  • Comment by Pamela Le Bailly
  • on: 03/09/2008
One of the most fascinating articles I have ever seen, particularly the 360° panoramas.  I can also vouch for Quickes cheese.  It puts every other cheese in the shade for sheer depth of taste.
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/09/2008
Pamela, thanks for your praise! Quicke's cheddar is highly commendable, but hold on for another article about James Montgomery's cheddars, they are one notch up the scale with their highly artisanal operations. I'll post 4 more articles about traditional cheesemaking which I shot this summer, they'll come at the rate of one a month. See you back on FXcuisine.com soon!
  • #23
  • Comment by Hugo
  • on: 14/10/2008
Thanks for another great article.  I think it's worth pointing out that the *really* great cheddars are the ones from the smaller farms that only make unpasteurised cheddar.  The two really famous ones in the UK foodie circles are Keen's and Montgomery's (known affectionately as Monty's).  These are truly top drawer cheeses that rival any of the other world greats.  Regularly going to Neal's Yard you'll often hear the question "is the Keen's or the Monty's better at the moment" with each of the two having their loyal punters.  It's also worth noting that the variety and quality of artisan English (and Irish) cheeses available in Neal's Yard is non-pareil, with other places in the UK rapidly catching up too.
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 14/10/2008
Hugo, at last somebody mentions James Montgomery! I have visited him too and will publish the article in December. Still have a whole head of his cheddar in my fridge. Although I've never visited one of their brick-and-mortar stores, it also seems to me that Neil's Yard is definitely the place to go for serious cheese in the UK!
Another great article. We often stock Quicke's Mature Cheddar but I prefer Keene's as it's made with raw milk. My favourite cheddar of all time though is not made in the West Country but in Lincolnshire on the East coast of England. Lincolnshire Poacher Vintage is a 2 year old raw milk cheddar made on the farm by Tim and Simon Jones (we're not related).

I think I need to send you some!
  • FX's answer→ Mike, thanks for visiting and hold on for a large article about James Montgomery's cheddar tomorrow, his farm is very close to Keen's!


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