St. Helen was the patron saint of new discoveries, and whilst not the inspiration behind the name of Suffolk's newest cheese, it is with great delighted that we bring you St. Helena to discover and enjoy.
St. Helena is a washed rind semi-firm cheese created by Blake Bowden in collaboration with renowned cheese maker Julie Cheyney of St. Jude Cheese. Made to a Saint-Nectaire recipe, it is quite a departure from their range of small individually boxed cheeses, St. Jude and St. Cera. St. Helena has a subtle milky flavour with a hint of sourness and farmyard reminiscent of St. Jude, but this cheese has an exciting squidgy texture within a beautiful mottled rind. Based on Fen Farm, Bungay, Blake and Julie use the raw milk of the farm's Montbeliarde cows.
Recently Clare caught up with Blake to learn more about St. Helena, and how this Australian from Byron Bay comes to be making cheese on the Waveney fenlands of north Suffolk.
A chef by trade, Blake moved to the UK in 2006 and soon discovered a passion for artisan cheese working at Patricia Michelson's La Fromagerie, cooking every day with amazing British and European cheeses. Making goat's cheese whilst on holiday in Tuscany inspired him into a cheese-making career. Three years ago Blake began to learn his craft at The Artisan School of Food in Nottinghamshire, attending a course run by cheese-making guru Ivan Larcher. This was followed by a course in the Saint-Nectaire region of the Auvergne in Central France, and some time at Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin, USA. These experiences have all influenced Blake in developing St. Helena. He wanted to create a cheese with a supple texture similar to Saint-Nectaire and says the washed rind techniques he learnt in Wisconsin are also key.
Living and working in Norwich in 2018, Blake met Julie Cheyney and since then they have worked side by side to grow the St. Jude Cheese business, expanding production of St. Jude and its washed rind sister St. Cera. With Julie's support and teaching, Blake further developed his experience and ideas for a new cheese.
Very different in style, St. Helena is made on a much quicker timeline to the smaller, delicate St. Jude cheeses that are produced slowly and gently over four days. St. Helena is based on a hybrid Tomme Savoie and St Nectaire recipe. Milk is set and put into moulds within two and a half hours. Blake stacks the cheese in self-pressing moulds to gently push out the whey over the next four to five hours, before soaking the cheese in brine solution, hand salting and turning out. This process makes for a busy day in amongst the stages of St. Jude and St. Cera but the three cheeses fit together efficiently in terms of their make.
St. Helena is currently matured for three to four weeks, with up to four brine washes to develop its springy texture, flavoursome rind and milky paste. Already Blake has made changes with a move from dry salting to brine solution and sees the process continuing to evolve. He hopes to extend maturation and find a more local alternative to the traditional rye straw mats currently imported from the Auvergne. Blake is also striving for greater consistency in the rinds of his cheese. He would prefer not to see the blue spots currently developing but knows these moulds are intrinsic to the Fen Farm milk as they also appear on St. Jude at certain times.
Blake describes his cheese as a "seriously good toastie cheese" with super melting qualities, perfectly complemented by a simple crunchy pickle. It is very versatile as a cooking cheese, tasting great in dishes such as Tartiflette, a gratin and also cheese scones. Blake recommends a dry to medium cider alongside St. Helena.
Coming back to the name of St. Helena, Blake explains it's a nod to his Australian heritage. St Helena Road was his childhood home, overlooking Byron Bay. He wanted to name his cheese after a significant place and felt this choice fitted perfectly with the St. Jude family.