Not exactly new at Cheese, the Selezionatori & Affineur Avenue set between the international and the Italian markets will be one of the richest and most rewards parts of the event.
Thirty-eight renowned international names will be exhibiting their cheeses. Among them will be Neal’s Yard Dairy, who’ve been a fixed presence at Cheese since 2003.
We met Jason Hinds, the sales director and owner of Neal’s Yard Dairy, to talk to him about the hot topics of Cheese 2017.
Why did you choose to work with raw milk?
Neal Yard’s Dairy has worked largely with producers who specialize in traditional farmhouse recipes and one of the key element in these recipes is that the cheese is made with raw milk. Clearly, historically, traditional cheese recipes were all made with raw milk.
There was a period when there was no pasteurized milk because Louie Pasteur had not invented pasteurization. So clearly at that time all cheese was made with raw milk and many of the producers we work with continue to work with raw milk. We find that the majority of the cheeses we sell with raw milk have more character, have more flavor.
It is important to defend producers who make cheese with raw milk because for our business we depend on cheese that has taste. The cheeses that have the most flavor and aroma are made with raw milk. That’s not to say that cheeses that are made with pasteurized milk don’t taste good because there are plenty that do, but overall, I think it’s true to say that cheeses made with raw milk will have more diversity of flavor and aroma, and these are the cheeses that we have built a business on supporting and selling.
For a milk producer, choosing to make cheese has economic benefits too, right?
There has been a recent phenomenon in the United Kingdom but it’s not exclusive to the United Kingdom because the story is related to the commodity price of milk. The cost of milk in the UK as in other parts of the world, recently has been less than the cost of the production of that milk. As a small milk producer, a small dairy farmer, it is very difficult to sustain the production of that milk for a very long time because you will bust. So over the course ten years, with the explosion of demand in farmhouse cheese making, we have seen more dairy farmers consider reorienting their business towards cheese production, transforming their milk into a farmhouse cheese. Because they deem that this could be the only way that could save their liquid milk business, by transforming their milk into a value-added product – cheese.
So we had a number of producers approach us certainly in the last ten years, but with every year that goes by more and more, with two questions: I would like to transform my milk into cheese. What should I make and how should I make it? We have an increasing role in the industry to try to identify the producers and line them up with people who might help them to understand what cheese they should make. Some of these cheeses recently have been made into recipes that are more familiar to perhaps continental-style soft cheese recipes. We are also very keen on redirecting some of these producers towards a more traditional British style of cheese such as Lancashire, Cheshire or Cheddar, or Stilton. Because these cheeses are native to our land, and they too are disappearing.
Can you tell us a little in advance about the raw milk producers we will meet at Cheese?
There is an interesting product that will be at Cheese in September 2017. There is the Somerset Cheddar Presidium that was established in 2003 for artisan Cheddar. Cheddar is the most consumed cheese on the planet. Its most authentic form is the cheese made in Somerset, home of Cheddar. In the county that houses the town of Cheddar, there are only 3 producers still making that cheese – the most consumed cheese on the planet – the most authentic way.
Slow Food has been working together with Neal’s Yard Dairy and three cheese makers who created the Presidium for artisan Somerset Cheddar. I think it is important to focus on this particular Presidium because it has been running now for fourteen years and just this week I visited all three of the producers to review the elements in the protocol of this Presidium to see that it is still current.
Can you tell us a little about the biodiversity of cheese in the UK?
The weather systems that prevail the United Kingdom come from west to east. A lot of rain falls on the western side of the country, which is much greener than the eastern part of the country where there is less rainfall. You have a division where most of the dairy farms are situated on the western side of the country. On the east of the country, most of the cows you find will be better suited to beef.
So, west side dairy, east side beef as a starting point. Then you’ll see regional variation which has more to do with the history of the type of cheese that has always been made in that area, ranging from Cheddar in the southwest and Cheshire in the mid-western part of the country, which is England’s oldest and noblest cheese. Recipes for that cheese can be found from the time Romans occupied the United Kingdom, to Lancashire in the northwest.
There would also historically be a difference in the type of cow that was used to supply the milk to transform into cheese. In Scotland, they used the native Ayrshire breed. In England, they used the native British short horn, both animals producing milk very suited to cheese making. But essentially the variations in the actual styles of cheese would have been more related to the recipes that were handed down from one generation to the next. Also we have a climate which is cool, so the types of cheese that we produce are typically hard cheeses. Because we have a climate where you can keep cheese for weeks and months without those cheeses spoiling.
What do you need to make good cheese?
First of all, to have great milk. That’s an obvious thing to say but if you read books about cheese making this particular element is skipped over yet it is the most important part of making good cheese, understanding what good milk is.
If you’re a farmer then understanding what type of milk is going to give you the opportunity to make good cheese is very important. What is the animal fed? What breed of cow are you working with? What does your protein and fat ratio look like?
With good milk you can make good cheese. After that, it’s more a question of your proficiency, and your attention to detail. The most important step is usually the one that’s the most overlooked.
What has changed in the last twenty years?
The last twenty years have been a very interesting time for young people interested in cheese. In the UK there used to be very little farmhouse cheese either sold or made. Therefore there’s been growing opportunity because there is a market for those cheeses.
In UK, cheese has almost become trendy. People are interested in devoting potentially their lives to the production of cheese and/or selling cheese. Similar phenomenon can be seen in the US. I think it has to do fact that our traditions have been lost. There is an opportunity to start again. Young people see an opportunity and they see a career. They also don’t see their parents or their grandparents being worn down by being stuck in generations’ work of hard graft. They see something new, they see opportunity. It’s an exciting time.
What are your opinions on Cheese?
Cheese is very special. I’ve been selling cheese for the last twenty-five years and we’ve been coming to Cheese since 2003. For me this event is the most dynamic coming together of the farmhouse cheese community, whether it’s producers, sellers, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, it is the greatest coming together of this community in the world and it only happens every two years. For us to be near the center of that is very exciting. We meet a lot of friends, but also we have lots of fun.
by Jack Coulton
If you want to know more on cheeses from England and Neal’s Yard Dairy, participate in the Taste Workshop, Bermondsey: a Neighborhood in a State of Fermentation on the 16th of September at 4pm. Affineur Avenue is also not to miss!
To see the complete interview, done by Granaries of Memory project, see this link: http://www.granaidellamemoria.it/index.php/en/archives/presidi-slow-food/jason-hinds