On a recent staycation in Somerset, Clare found herself a stone's throw from Shepton Mallet, the home of White Lake Cheese. One phone call later and Clare was delighted to don a blue hair net for her first behind-the-scenes cheese maker visit in far too long.
Clare's tour guide was Roger Longman, founder of White Lake who is often described as Willy Wonka of the cheese world! With over 25 cheeses made on the farm, of all shapes, sizes, milks and styles, Roger is a master of cheese invention with his mind whirring at the sight of any new kitchen colander or sieve he can repurpose as a cheese mould.
The current offering from White Lake ranges from fresh goat's curd and soft cheeses such as Driftwood, Tor and Pavé Cobble to hard matured cheeses including Rachel and Sheep Rustler. After initial uncertainties at the start of the pandemic, demand for these delicious goat and sheep milk cheeses has ballooned. Every room Clare visited was stacked high with rack upon rack of beautiful cheese ripening - each cheese receiving daily hands-on care, be it turning, brushing, brining or wrapping.
Warm and humid, the cheese room was a hive of activity as milk was pasteurised and set, curds cut and ladled, whey drained away. The make schedule at White Lake is a complex jigsaw of who is making which cheese in which vat. Yet despite the busy atmosphere, every process is performed gently by hand to preserve the texture and flavour of the milk right through to final cheese.
Clare finished her time at White Lake with a visit to the farm's goat herd, nine hundred animals of which around two thirds are milked twice every day. A mixed breed herd, these inquisitive playful animals are kept in large airy sheds. An ingenious robot fills their troughs with pellets six times a day.
With seemingly boundless energy for all things cheese related, Roger has many plans for the future at White Lake. With research into sustainable packaging and building of a much bigger cheese room under way, it's definitely a question of watch this space and who knows what shape their next cheese will be!