February 2024: What’s happening in the world of cheese?

12 February 2024, 11:00 AM
  • Speciality Food's insider view on the world of artisan cheese
February 2024: What’s happening in the world of cheese?

New network for organic cheesemakers

The founders of Feltham’s Farm (makers of Renegade Monk and Rebel Nun) have established the new Organic Cheesemakers Network in a bid to bring together producers across the UK to protect and preserve this sector of the industry.

Penny Nagle and Marcus Fergusson started making cheese eight years ago and were adamant organic would be central to their plans, despite, they say, organic milk prices in their Somerset base being a third higher than average.

“We felt the quality of the milk was essential, and organic certification, if you’re an organic dairy farmer, is just that extra layer of auditing and welfare and security you can pass onto the consumer,” says Penny.

“The thing about cheesemakers,” she adds, “is we don’t talk to each other a lot, except at festivals. We noticed, from speaking to others at Christmas markets and events, that some people who were organic were going to different systems. They say there’s no value perceived at the customer end for organic, and we just wondered what is going wrong?”

Penny says she and Marcus have spoken to numerous makers who are using organic milk, but don’t certify, either because of the cost, or because customers aren’t willing to pay extra for their products.

The Organic Cheesemakers Network, she adds, “is to pull these people together. Most organic cheesemakers are interested in the best quality milk and making the best quality cheese. We thought, ‘how can we pull through the barriers?’ If it’s not organic certification, what is it that people want?”

Elmo Neath Baker, who has been working on the project, says, “A lot of people I’ve spoken to really care about organic as a way of farming, but they are struggling to find a reason to certify. People using organic milk and not certifying, we see as a failure of the organic system.”

Via the network, the team hope to explore these issues, finding a way to move forward collectively as makers. “We want to talk to certifiers about what’s happening. They are very much in that conversation,” says Penny. “Are they putting up too many barriers? Or focussing on things people don’t feel are important? When we talk about organic, we really believe in it but, at the same time, farmers can’t be charged hand over fist because they want to do the right thing.”

Penny and Marcus are currently reaching out to organic cheesemakers, and are in the process of setting up a social media presence for the Organic Cheesemakers Network. Get in touch with them at Feltham Farm to find out more.

Bath & West Food and Drink Festival is offering all members of the new network reduced price stands at the event on March 23 and 24.

Mrs Kirkham’s cheeses cleared for sale

The Kirkham family was rocked on Christmas Eve 2023 when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued an emergency precautionary recall of several products, with concern surrounding a potential risk to health from Shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

Working closely with Preston Local Authority and the FSA, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese has just announced it has the all-clear to resume sales of batches made on or after 1st October 2023 of Mrs Kirkham’s Mild & Creamy Lancashire, Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire, Mrs Kirkham’s Mature Lancashire, and Mrs Kirkham’s Smoked Lancashire.

More than 40 samples of milk and cheese from a five-month time span have been tested since the investigation began, with none showing evidence of the outbreak strain of the suspect pathogen.

“The suspect pathogen is a member of a class of organisms (so-called ‘non-0157 STEC) for which no accredited commercial tests are currently available, and this is an issue not just for raw milk cheesemakers, but other food suppliers as well,” says Graham Kirkham. “With this in mind, and because food safety is of the utmost importance to our business, we are working with the technical experts at the Specialist Cheesemakers Association on a review of all our milk production and food safety management systems, making sure that even the smallest risk is identified and dealt with. We are committed to leading the industry in producing cheese that is both safe and delicious.”

New coffee cheese comes to market

RAVE Coffee and Paxton & Whitfield have teamed up to create Kaldi – a limited edition coffee-matured goats’ cheese.

Named for the young goat herder who, legend has it, first discovered coffee, Kaldi is an innovative washed-rind variety, balancing the fruity and floral notes of RAVE’s responsibly sourced beans with the fresh, clean and nutty profile of the cheese.

RAVE’s David Webb and Paxton & Whitfield’s James Rutter explored different milks and cheese styles before landing on Kaldi’s final format – using young, unrinded goats’ cheese from the Somerset Cheese Company. It’s aged at the cheesemonger’s state-of-the-art maturation rooms in the Cotswolds, where it goes through a process of brine-washing, coffee coating before maturing over 10 weeks.

James says, “Aside from cheese, coffee is the product that intrigues me the most, so it was a real pleasure to work on the Kaldi collaboration with RAVE. Since we opened our maturation rooms and increased our focus on affinage, coffee has been on our minds, but we knew the process would only work if we used the highest quality beans.

“We’re very lucky to have RAVE on our doorstep, ready to help us find a coffee that complemented the goats’ cheese and let it sing, rather than dominating it altogether.”

Cornish dairy celebrates sustainability award

Lynher Dairies, maker of Cornish Yarg and Cornish Kern, has been awarded Most Sustainable Organisation for a medium-sized business at the Cornwall Sustainability Awards.

Emily Rodda says, “Lynher Dairies lives and breathes to produce outstanding cheese. Today, our definition of ‘outstanding’ goes beyond the array of national and international awards that we receive to hold our environment and social performance as integral to the business.

“Our interventions are centered around three main pillars that align with the triple bottom line approach: reducing our environmental impact through improving resource efficiency; supporting our farming, cheesemaking and local communities for the good of all; and exceeding our role as employers to improve the wellbeing and social equity of our team.”

Sustainability measures at the dairy that contributed to its award win include reducing electricity consumption by 47% since 2018, installing solar panels in 2023, changing processes to reduce plastic cheese cloth consumption, and using ‘wonky’ cheeses in cooking demonstrations at local events. Wild garlic and nettle foragers are trained to ensure they don’t deplete natural stocks, and, says Emma, the dairy has collaborated with Working Woodlands Cornwall to launch a woodland management plan.

“Our projects going into 2024 include making our packaging 100% biodegradable, recyclable and reusable, exploring ways to convert our pasteuriser boiler to renewable energy sources, and developing our own farm standard for our herd which reflects the social, environmental, and animal welfare standards that we deem essential,” Emily adds.

Yorkshire producer launches new Mexican-style cheese

Mexican food and drink is hot property in retail right now, with trendsetters and analysts predicting the British appetite for everything from tequila to tacos will only strengthen in 2024.

A family-run cheesemaking business in Yorkshire has got ahead of the game, tapping into the trend to produce a brand-new Oaxaca-style cheese for retail, alongside a range of soft Mexican-type cheeses that are being snapped up by restaurants and foodservice.

Razan Alsous of Yorkshire Dama (known for its Squeaky Cheese made using Yorkshire milk), started investigating Mexican dairy as part of her degree in food manufacturing. “It’s very similar to the cheeses in the Middle East,” says the Syrian native, “because we do a lot of fresh cheese and cheese curds, which is what they are doing as well. I had some customers ask ‘do you make quesa fresco?’ and I started to read about it. By coincidence, we do make it but under a different name in Arabic, so I thought, ‘why not?’” Especially, she thought, as Mexican cheese cannot be imported into the UK.

Razan began researching the technical aspects of Oaxaca cheese, spending a year on market research and formulation, and says she has seen a lot of interest since the product became available for sale.

“It’s very similar to mozzarella, but it has a slightly different technique of how you work on the acidity and moisture level of the cheese, and there is a slightly different texture as well, but it’s from the same family of cheeses,” says Razan. “This is what we need at the moment in the UK.”

Also available, largely to chefs but potentially to retail in future, are queso Latino, and queso fresco, with Razan working on a Chihuahua-style cheese and a Mexican spiced version of her Squeaky Cheese. “As an SME we have got the flexibility to anticipate gaps in the market and respond to them. It’s all now about business growth, and going to the next level,” she adds.

New ethically-made goats’ cheeses to be available this summer

A range of ethically-produced goats’ cheeses, which launched successfully at the end of 2023, will once again become available to retail for summer 2024.

Danni Rees and Oli Harris founded Mossy Oaks in the Shropshire Hills in 2022, following their shared ambition to live from the land and produce high-quality, sustainable food.

British Saddleback pigs, rescued laying hens, and a herd of hardy rare breed Guernsey Gold goats are part of team Mossy Oaks, where the duo is aiming to return to a fully traditional wood pasture system. Having made cheese as a hobby since 2017, and being passionate about craft cheese, they have invested in producing a ‘full board’ with milk from their “happy goats” which live out on pasture year-round. The entire process, from milking to packaging, takes place on site.

“We operate as low input as possible,” says Danni. “Our herd is fed mainly from the pasture, supplemented with spent grain from a local brewery. We rotationally graze our pasture with herd so they benefit the land as well as producing food for us. And we work with the rhythm of nature and keep all our processes in sync with this.”

Milking takes place only from April to October, and the farm operates a nanny-with-kid system, keeping kids with their mums, and only taking surplus milk for cheesemaking.

The next batches will be available from this summer, and include the signature Mossy Oaks Gold (a semi-soft washed-rind cheese), Nanny Hold (a hard cheese), Hill Billy Blue, and bloomy-rinded Golden Goatling. Soft fresh cream cheese and feta and halloumi-style cheeses are also available.”

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