Last weekend, I went on a cheesemaking course run by the Low Impact Living Initiative. I think it’s the third LILI course I’ve been on and the others have been great introductions to the subject and excellent value for money – so I had high hopes for this one and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.
When I signed up for the course a couple of months ago, it was listed as being taught by Kathy Biss – author of Practical Cheesemaking and a renowned cheesery teacher – but unfortunately she was ill so Mark Robertson from the Northumberland Cheese Company stepped in instead. Mark admitted at the very start that he’d never taught before and was clearly nervous about doing so – but while the course was presumably very different than it would have been with Kathy, it was possibly more interesting — we learnt less about some more advanced techniques, but more about setting up small scale commercial production (which I find fascinating). Like the keeping chickens LILI course I went on last year, I think knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject goes a long way on these type of intro courses – and Mark had those in spades.
I shalln’t go into any detail about the cheesemaking process that we learnt on the course as there are lots of great tutorials/books available, and I wouldn’t be able to do it justice – this is more a review of the course than a tutorial.
The course was a mixture of theory and hands-on practical work – familiarising us with the equipment and techniques. The first day was very hands-on – learning the theory during the waiting stages of the cheesemaking. We aimed to make a Caerphilly, a Gouda and a soft cheese – although because we rushed it and a problem with the rennet, we only ended up making the Caerphilly and that was somewhat delayed too.
However, the problems ended up being a perfect example of one of the maxim’s Mark mentioned at the start of the day: there are many roads to London. If you know your starting point (milk) and where you want to get to (cheese), there are lots of possible ways to get there. With the Caerphilly, waiting slightly longer and raising the temperature slightly got us to the same place in the end. Mark was clearly embarrassed by the initial failure but it was a very useful teaching aid for us — giving us the confidence to problem solve rather than assume it’s a lost cause because we did something wrong.
Sunday was more theory and involved more cheese eating – mmm theory. We tasted a number of different cheeses – mass-made supermarket cheese and Northumberland Cheese Company cheese – to explore the different flavours & textures, and thinking about how we’d achieve them. We also got to try the two small cheeses we’d made the previous day (we’d split the Caerphilly curds in half, using half to make a soft cheese, the rest a hard one) – without a brine bath/ageing respectively, they were both milkily bland but the texture was getting there and it was nice to see how relatively easy it was to get that far.
After lunch, Mark took us out to see the Northumberland Cheese Company’s set-up in Blagdon, just north of Newcastle. For a commercial processes nerd like myself, it was really great to have such a tour and standing in the cheese storage rooms was as close to heaven as someone like me will ever get ;) We also had the chance to buy some of their cheese – and I partook in that, bringing home some Kiedler (made from milk from Jersey cows, so creamier and yellower in colour than most milk), some Coquetdale (a “prize-winning gourmet cheese packed with complex character and confidence”) and some oak-smoked stuff — all very very good.
As he/I said, Mark isn’t an experienced teacher but he was incredibly knowledgeable and entertained as well as educated. He was also very kind – going above and beyond the call of duty by taking us carless people back & forth to our hotels and the train station. We were also given some papers – mostly Kathy’s notes – to bring home which will be useful reference material.
All in all, the course was informative and gave me the confidence to give hard cheeses a go at home. I’d definitely recommend it.