Clare and John are always thrilled by the opportunity to get hands-on making cheese. Togged up in white coats and blue hairnets, there were cheeses to be turned and curds to be "cheddared" as they made a recent visit to Ferndale Cheeses.
Ferndale Cheeses is the family-run producer of local East Anglian cheeses Norfolk Dapple and Norfolk Tawny. Their range also includes some variations: Smoked Dapple, Carrow Dapple (with added mustard seeds) and a seasonal special, port-infused Ruby Dapple.
Based at Ferndale Farm in the picturesque Norfolk village of Little Barningham, Elinor Betts has been cheese making for nearly two decades. A couple of years ago she was joined in the business by her son Arthur when he returned to live in Norfolk with his wife and young family.
Norfolk Dapple is a hard, pressed cheese made from raw cows milk. The milk is sourced from a herd of pedigree Holsteins who graze at Abbey Farm in nearby Binham. Early each day, a tanker delivers fresh milk to Ferndale Farm. It is pumped straight into the vat and cheese making begins with the addition of starter culture and rennet whilst the milk is gently heated and stirred.
Clare and John arrived mid morning in time to cut the curd of the morning's make. Introductions were made over the stainless steel vat with elbows deep in curds and whey.
Norfolk Dapple is made using a traditional "cheddaring" method: after draining off the whey (which goes to feed local pigs), the curds are cut into blocks, stacked and continually turned to encourage the removal of as much moisture as possible. The curds start to bind in these blocks, developing the stringy consistency of raw chicken fillets. Living close by allows Arthur and Elinor to come and go from the cheese room in rhythm with the cheese making process. Lunch break happens whilst the curds sit quietly draining and Arthur often returns in the evening to finish putting the curds into moulds and then the presses.
Once pressed, Norfolk Dapple is cloth-bound and matured for between five and eight months. During this time a beautiful speckling of colours develops on the cloth. The cheese takes its name from this dappling and its flavour emerges as rich and round with a hint of nuttiness in the finish. Some truckles will be cold smoked in a bespoke refrigerator for twenty-four hours using oak wood pellets to produce Smoked Dapple.
Arthur and Elinor also make Norfolk Tawny, a semi-hard washed rind cheese. It too is made with local unpasteurised cows milk, and then the surface of these cheeses is washed each week with local ale from Beeston Brewery as they mature. The cheeses are turned daily - the perfect job for Clare and John! Anything to help out, as it is a long day, full of extremely physical activity, for the small team who make the Ferndale range of delicious cheeses.