Thursday, May 21, 2009

Flipping Cheddar

This is not a good look for me--the jumpsuit stained with mold and mites, the mask so I don't breathe in any molds and mites that aren’t already rubbed thoroughly into my jumpsuit, and the blue hairnet (to protect the cheese from my hair, not my hair from the mites.)

But what could be more beautiful than a store filled with 225 or so wheels of Quickes Cheddar made with unpasteurized milk?

I spent a happy but tiring afternoon on my first day at Quickes Traditional in Devon, not far from Exeter, turning 185 25-kilo (over 50 lb) wheels of maturing Cheddar. Until they are stripped of their cloth rinds and cut with a cheese wire into manageable pieces, the wheels need to be turned regularly so that they don’t stick to the wooden shelving and so the moisture that remains inside of the hardening cheese gets evenly distributed.

You may wonder what happened to the other 40 wheels and why I didn’t turn them. I hate to admit it, but I just wasn’t strong enough for the task that I had volunteered for. On top of that, I was knackered. Up at 5 a.m. to report to the dairy by 5:45, I spent the morning larding and dressing truckles, helping with the cheddaring, and dipping the truckles that had been made and pressed that same morning into brine and then putting them back into their wee molds for another pressing.

The neglected wheels were up on the top shelves. There wasn’t enough space between them and the ceiling to flip them 180 degrees by tipping them gently over onto their sides. This method would have involved the least amount of wrestling with gravity. The only way to do the job was a risky one. Standing on the top of a wooden step ladder, I’d have to lift up each cheese, bring it toward me, flip it over while getting more mites and mold on me, and then heave it back onto the top shelf. I might have been able to do it if I could have rested the cheese on a shelf below in between the lifting, turning, and heaving, but there wasn’t. I successfully managed to turn three or four in this way, but then I conceded that it wasn’t worth the risk. I was going to either drop a cheese or I was going to fall off the ladder. Not worth it.

It was good for me to get the exercise (I lifted almost a total of 10,000 pounds in less than two hours! Is that right?) since I am still flabby and untoned, but what was more important is that it helped me see why some small cheesemakers (e.g., Montgomery’s and Westcombe) are thinking of following the Swiss, French, and Americans in getting robots to vacuum and flip their artisanal cheeses. The vacuuming sucks up the mites. The custom-made robots, made by a quiet and thoughtful Swiss man, are expensive but in the long run they’ll save the cheesemakers money and will save the backs of their employees. And they won’t have to wear those jump suits.

1 comment:

Loe said...

That. Is. My. Nightmare.

I still have to have them cut the rind off Monty's. I totally lost my war w/ mites.

Still though, looks tasty! Good to see you're having so much fun!