As it’s the start of the year I thought it would be interesting to write a bit about our cheese-making process which of course starts with the delivery of the milk each morning. And as we all know, milk is the key ingredient when making cheese, so it makes sense that to make delicious cheese you need to start with good quality milk.
What is Milk exactly?
Simply put, milk is composed of water (87%), Carbohydrate (4.5%), fat (4.4%), protein (3.4%) and minerals (0.8%). These are our average values of the milk we use to make our authentic cheddar cheese. These values will differ slightly each day, between individual cows, different breeds and different times of the year.
In comparison once the milk has been converted into cheese the composition changes to: water (35%), Carbohydrate (0.1%), fat (34.3%), protein (25.4%) and minerals (5.2%).
Cheese is the oldest way of preserving milk and is an excellent source of nutrients. It’s a good source of Calcium, protein, fat, vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Zinc, Riboflavin, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Our Cheddar contains only around 1.7% salt and is low in carbohydrate (0.01%) as most is removed in the whey or converted into lactic acid during the cheese-making processes (which is why, contrary to popular belief, that those with lactose intolerance can still enjoy eating our cheese!)
Did you know?! While milk is primarily composed of water which is a colourless liquid, the other components of milk (fat, protein, lactose, minerals and vitamins) influence the colour of milk. The fat and protein molecules in milk reflect light at a wavelength that makes the liquid appear white. Milk fat, on its own, has a yellow hue due to pigments such as beta-carotene that the cow gets from eating grass. During the cheese making process, the water is removed and the fat is concentrated which is why cheese is yellow!
But does milk really matter?
Yes it does! Large scale cheese producers need to source large quantities of milk, supplied from many farms. Once delivered to the factory, the milk is stored before use – usually in large cylindrical silos, and then pasteurised and (usually) standardised before use. These two processes ensure a consistent raw material is used to make a consistent cheese.
If the cheese is made from raw milk, the quality and composition is even more important; this milk will not be pasteurised before use.
Pasteurisation was developed by a French Scientist called Louis Pasteur during the nineteenth century. Pasteur discovered that heating milk to a high temperature and then quickly cooling it before bottling kept it fresher for longer. Today, the process of pasteurisation is widely used within the food and drink industry, and it is the most common form of heat treatment used in the UK.
Pasteurisation is widely used in cheese making specifically to minimise the risk presented by storing raw milk before use. Delaying the use of the milk increases the likelihood of harmful bacteria developing in the milk. Pasteurisation denatures proteins, including destroying all bacteria. Ensuring there are no pathogens (harmful bacteria) in milk is essential for food safety; however this process also destroys non harmful bacteria and enzymes naturally present in the milk.
Before pasteurisation was introduced, all Cheeses were made from raw-milk and commonly made on the farm from the farmers own herd of cattle. These days raw-milk cheeses are still fairly common in Europe; Parmesan, for example, is always made with unpasteurised milk (the Italian decree insists on it), as is Swiss Gruyère, Roquefort, Comté etc.. but only a handful of cheese-makers in the UK make raw-milk cheese – of which we are one!
So, what makes raw-milk cheese so special?
The milk is one of the most important aspects of our cheese and we believe that the very best Cheddar is created in harmony with the land. The special conditions here in Somerset are vital to producing exceptional cheddar cheese. The unique landscape of Cheddar and the lush pastures that surround it contribute to high quality milk which in turn produces high quality cheese. For an exceptional cheddar the flavour is derived from the composition of the milk. This is of course influenced both by the cow and it’s diet, also the geography of the land where the cows live (the soil, altitude, aspect, weather and quality of grass) – also known as the ‘terroir’. Our milk is sourced from just one local farm & delivered fresh each morning to our dairy. The milk is not pasteurised, so that all the valuable flavour-enhancing bacteria, enzymes, proteins and minerals are retained. By using only one milk source and maintaining excellent hygiene standards, we ensure we produce the highest quality cheddar both in terms of flavour and safety.
The milk, with its unique combination of natural microbes, influences both the flavour and texture of our cheese and one of the most interesting aspects of working with a raw product as microbially active as our milk, is that no batch of cheese is ever the same. The changing seasons influence the quantity and quality of the milk and everything from the climate, health, breeding cycle and most importantly the type of grasses and other natural fodder that the cows feed on will affect the final flavours of our cheese.
Cow breed also plays a major part in the quality of the milk because different breeds produce different levels of fat and protein. The more fat and protein in the milk means more cheese, but the specific types of fat and protein, which vary between breeds, all make a difference to the cheese quality. The differing fats and proteins are captured in the cheese, and, in time, broken down to create the flavour. There is also evidence that differing breeds affect other aspects of cheese-making too, for example some breeds have more ‘lactic acid’ bacteria in their milk, which influences the cheese making process.
Interestingly, many famous European cheeses are made to rules that stipulate the exact breed that must be used to make that cheese.
In the 19th Century before the influx of more modern breeds, traditional breeds such as the Shorthorn and Ayrshire were commonly used, although the county of Somerset actually had it’s very own breed of cow – the ‘Sheeted Somerset’ – so called because of the distinctive white “sheet” forming the mid-section of the cow’s torso. Sadly the breed became extinct by the 1930s as farming requirements changed and new breeds were introduced from other areas of the UK and Europe.
These days the most common dairy breed in the UK is the Holstein-Friesen. Considered to be the ultimate dairy cow, these black/brown and white cattle are a common sight across the British countryside, although they were actually brought over from Friesland in the Netherlands and Holstein in Germany after the Second World War. Although commonly used for the liquid milk market some herds are managed, fed and bred specifically for cheese making.
So, to answer the question – YES! milk DOES matter! and the proof is in the pudding (or the cheese).
Is there something you’d like to know a little more about? why not get in touch and let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org