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  • Ned palmer

It's Goat, But Not As We Know It.

Recently I went down to Sleight Farm in Somerset to make cheese with Mary Holbrook, one of Britain’s greatest cheese-makers. I am a lucky man. Everything about that weekend was brilliant: the beautiful sleepy pigs, the happy goats, the lovely sunny weather, the great hunks of pork belly. But best of all was making cheese, and one cheese in particular: Old Ford.

Why was I so pleased to be making Old Ford? Well, it is a hard goat’s milk cheese which is a rare style as they are quite difficult to get right. I use it a lot in my tastings, partly because of this rarity, but largely because I love its wonderful complex flavours which range from delicate floral notes to a sharper peppery edge.

It’s down to Mary’s skill as a cheese-maker that Old Ford doesn’t show that pronounced ‘goaty’ tang that puts some people off goat’s cheese.

The other thing that I love about making this cheese is that I get my hands in the vat. Mary breaks up the curd by hand, this means she can be particularly gentle to keep its creaminess and the whole time she can feel how the curd is acidifying and setting. It’s a marvellous thing to do. The curd feels amazing, very silky at first, and the action of just letting it break up gently through your fingers while stirring the whole mass very slowly, is uniquely satisfying, and actually quite moving. You feel like you’re involved in something that people have been doing for thousands of years. It is also quite hard on the back. I was feeling it after just one make, imagine doing that every day seven days a week! It’s a wonder cheese-makers can stand up at all.

When the curd has reached the right level of acidity it starts to feel a bit like rubbery scrambled egg and tastes surprisingly sweet and very delicate. Don’t worry, I washed my hands! It amazes me that this mild flavour is going to develop into the complex and quite intense flavour of a mature Old Ford.

As a hard cheese, ripening is mostly accomplished by the continuing work of the starter culture, in this case the whey from the last day’s make. Knowing that doesn’t make the process any less magical for me.

Then we start scooping the curd out of the whey and into the moulds which look a bit like plastic colanders. A lot of whey drains off them at this point, in fact I am soaked in whey from the knees down for pretty much the whole weekend.

The cheeses are turned in the moulds a few minutes later and it surprises me how quickly they knit together. They feel really beautiful, still warm and springy. They stay in the moulds for the rest of the afternoon getting turned now and again. At the end of our day the cheeses to go into a brine bath for the night, which draws out moisture and helps them to start developing a rind.

I note down the date so that I can try the cheese I helped to make when it’s ready in a few months time. We finished up and had a glass of wine before our dinner while talking about cheese making, church organs and Byzantine frescos. It’s a nice life.

You can buy Old Ford at Neal's Yard Dairy here.

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