Cheesemaking on Mull: small island challenges

Cheesemaking on Mull is the sole preserve of Isle of Mull Cheese at Sgriob-Ruadh Farm. The Reade family have been calling this beautiful, windswept Scottish island home for three generations. Back in 1979, when they moved from Somerset, Sgriob-Ruadh was little more than a pile of stones inhabited by ghosts of the past. Jeff, Chris and their sons breathed life into the buildings and set up a dairy and a family home. Locals may have had some doubts over their ambitions, but none were evident. Instead – support, help and encouragement were always there.

Isle of Mull Cheddar is Cuculo’s September 2021 Cheese of the Month, available in the shop or online.

Cheesemaking on Mull started over 40 years ago, with the farmhouse Isle of Mull Cheddar. This unpasteurised cheese has a dense, punchy, savoury, boozy flavour and sells very well all over the UK. The Hebridean Blue began production ten years ago. It tends only to be found in Scotland.

chunk of cheese

“Small island challenges are at the heart of life at Sgriob-Ruadh.

“The isolation ensures that innovation and experimentation are part of daily life. So, if something breaks down or needs fixing on the farm, usually Dad (Brendan) will repair it. Being cut off from the mainland creates an island mentality of selfsufficiency. As a result, we have tried to build this into the sustainability of the farm.

“We make our own silage and use 100% renewable energy sources like our own hydro, wind and wood chip,” .

Lily Reade

A beautiful venue

The business also has a stunning Café called The Glass Barn. This imaginative repurposing of the village hall – reconstructed on the farm – is now complete with a twenty-seven-year-old vine and plants inside. As a result, the farm can serve their own pork, cheese, preserves, jams, cakes and the Island Bakery biscuits made by another family member who has started an organic bakery on Mull.

Cheesemaking on Mull - Glass Barn Cafe
The Glass Barn – wonderful place to enjoy local food, tea and cakes in this ‘recycled’ village hall with views across the island

Cheesemaking on Mull – more to come.

After that – and not unsurprisingly – the story doesn’t end here. The next project is a distillery that will distill the whey left over from the cheesemaking. This will see them producing their own highly unusual spirit. Watch this space.

Additionally, we hope to be able to source some of the elusive Hebridean Blue for later this year.

“Bloody hard to get right!” Pevensey Blue – not too salty, not too blue, gorgeously moreish – Cuculo’s latest Cheese of the Month

Martin’s babe in arms gurgled along to our conversation when I caught up with him on the phone recently. The Pevensey Cheese Company make Cuculo’s Cheese of the Month. Martin explained his mission:

“We wanted to rise to the challenge of making a good soft blue cheese, a bit Gorgonzola in style but much creamier. An artisan cheese that would please the blue cheese lover but with the potential to seduce all cheese lovers. We knew we couldn’t compete with Stilton, and wanted to do something in our own way. Blue cheese is tricky to make ‘bloody hard’ to get right. But we feel we have succeeded with a cheese which is not too salty, not too blue and gorgeously moreish.”

As luck would have it, when Martin and Hazel were inspired to set up the business they found space on the family farm in Boreham Street, East Sussex; and the perfect organic milk supplier adjacent at Court Lodge.

In fact, the milk relationship resulted in a business partnership extending beyond the supplying of milk. The fragility of milk means that the proximity of the supply to the cheese dairy is a crucial part of ensuring the quality and consistency needed by artisan producers. The speed of their supply chain means it’s grass on Sunday and cheese by Monday. The breed is a mix of British Friesian and Ayrshire – reared to a high welfare standard. The Pevensey Levels Wildlife Trust Area is the grazing land for these animals, where they enjoy this special wetland pasture in a unique partnership which keeps them in grass whilst ensuring the land is grazed to encourage the birdlife.

A serious challenge for many a cheesemaker, the pandemic was in fact a bit of a blessing, as it gave them time to get the Pevensey Blue ready for launching to the market this year. Much trial and error was involved before they perfected their cheese method.  Pevensey Blue is made by using pasturised milk, which is introduced to the blue culture – penicillium roqueforti and rennet, after the whey is removed it becomes young curd in moulds, and at this point it is ready for the seven week maturation process. After which the cheese is distributed to restaurants, gastro pubs and specialist, artisan retailers like Cuculo. The limited production means that the only challenge Martin and Hazel have is keeping up with demand.

Martin in the dairy with the cheese

Martin’s love affair with cheese started with his days on the cheese counter at Neal’s Yard Dairy and he has never looked back. His ambition to make amazing cheese is at the heart of the business. He also acknowledges the support he has had from the local community, the council and EU funding. Without which he would have been unlikely to get to that first truckle.

Pevensey Blue is a newcomer to the burgeoning range of UK derived artisan cheeses.

This is the blue cheese to go for if you like a creamy blue with a simple milky, nutty flavour. A cheese Martin and Hazel have worked bloody hard to get right.

Pevensey Blue – Cheese of the Month at Cuculo, High Street, Heathfield, East Sussex TN21 8HU

Cheese of the Month – happy to be compared to Brie de Meaux, but Baron Bigod is definitely a cheese in its own right

May 2021’s Cheese of the Month is Baron Bigod, which hails from Suffolk based Fen Farm Dairy. The Crickmore family have been farming the land there for three generations. Their Montbeliarde herd graze the beautiful marshlands of the Waveney River Valley. The delicious raw milk is then transformed into the finest artisan cheese and raw cultured butter.

Baron Bigod.
Baron Bigod is available in individual 250g boxed cheeses, as well as slices cut to your preference.
Fen Farm Dairy logo.

Baron Bigod is unique to Fen Farm. Its flavours, aromas and characteristics are influenced by the cows’ milk and the rich variety of grasses and herbs that grow on the Stow Fen. This ‘brie’ style cheese is a creamy, white bloomy-rind cheese, handmade on the farm by Jonny and the team. It has a smooth, silky texture and a golden curd, with warm, long-lasting earth, farmyard and mushroom flavours. It is the only traditional raw milk Brie-de-Meaux style cheese produced in the UK; and is one of only a handful of its type in the world to be made by the farmer on the farm – and which, therefore, may genuinely be called a true farmhouse Brie. Jonny does admit that they use a traditional recipe passed on to them by a French cheese maker, but he believes that what they have made is something very special.

“Baron Bigod is hand made in small batches, very early in the morning, so the raw milk is still warm from the cow, at the perfect temperature for cheesemaking. The mould cultures are added to the warm morning’s milk and it is gently gravity-fed into small vats just a few metres from the milking parlour, where the rennet is added. The curds are carefully hand-ladled into large moulds, using traditional pelle-a-brie ladles and the young cheeses are hand-salted and then aged for up to 8 weeks in a cave-like environment.

“We treat the milk with the utmost care and respect, keeping its delicate cells and fat molecules intact. This is what gives our cheese its smooth, delicate, silky texture and complex, long-lasting flavours which bounce around the mouth,”

Jonny Crickmore, Fen Farm Dairy

2020 threw up multiple challenges for artisan cheese producers, with the collapse of the restaurant trade. At the start of the pandemic, Fen Farm had orders racked up for Easter, before a wave of cancellations nearly spelt disaster. Throughout last year they have worked hard to find new solutions for selling their cheese, and have had constantly to rethink different ways to reach their market. They are very grateful for the enthusiastic support from local customers wanting to buy locally, and from retailers and individuals further afield.

Jonny summed up how they feel now:

“Happy and relieved to get some normality back, but again it is incredibly hard to predict what the next few months is going to bring. Although we are feeling positive that it will be a busy summer. We will concentrate on making great products. As long as the cheese tastes great, people will buy it and along the way we will build a reputation of world class cheese makers. “

Baron Bigod is available online and in-store from Cuculo Cheese & Wine, 69 High Street, Heathfield, East Sussex TN21 8HU.

A herd of Montebliarde cows.

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Dive into a world of artisan cheese at the British Cheese Weekender

You can enjoy a packed programme of FREE online masterclasses, cook-alongs with Michelin starred chefs Simon Rogan and Tommy Banks, tutored tastings and virtual farm tours. Plus many of the nation’s top cheesemakers, cheesemongers and cheese commentators. The #BritishCheeseWeekender is organised by cheese writer Patrick McGuigan and Tracey Colley, Academy of Cheese director, and supported by the Guild of Fine Food and the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA). Curd nerds can look forward to a festival like no other, with a line-up assembled from across the cheese community, featuring:

Event Highlights

A British Cheese Road Trip’ with cheese expert Francis Gimblett / ‘Pandemic Cheeses’ with cheese writer Patrick McGuigan / ‘The Art of the Cheese Board’ with The Fine Cheese Co. / ‘Flavour Mapping’ with Mary Quicke of Quicke’s / ‘Cult Cheeses’ with The Cheese Geek.

To get the full sensory experience we recommend stocking up on your favourite cheese from Cuculo or ordering one of our Cuculo British Cheese Boxes.

We whole heartedly support Patrick McGuigan, co-founder of British Cheese Weekender, when he said: “There’s been a clear change in people’s cheese shopping habits over the past year with a big rise in online orders direct from cheesemakers and much greater support for local delis, farm shops and cheesemongers. This has helped the country’s specialist cheesemakers navigate a really difficult period and bodes well for the future. The British Cheese Weekender aims to celebrate this resilience and the delicious cheeses being made in the UK.”

Click here for a full list of cheese inspired events at The British Cheese Weekender

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