Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

“Have you ever thought about becoming a cheesemaker?”

It was Sam Holden of Hafod Cheese who asked me this question. When he did, I was leaning over into the dairy's small, circular wooden vat--about the size of a hot tub--which Sam and his wife Rachel had picked up with their car in Holland and took back to Wales on the Eurostar. We were in the middle of cheddaring, or flipping and stacking blocks of curd, heavy with whey.

I was slightly taken aback. Never had the question been posed to me in this way. Usually people ask me, "So do you want to become a cheesemaker?" when they are trying to figure out why I am visiting Cheddar dairies all over the world. They assume it’s because I want to make my own cheese. I tell them no; I am trying to write a travel book about Cheddar, with a good dose of history about the world's most popular cheese type. Sam’s phrasing was different and I couldn’t give my typical response. He almost seemed to be suggesting that I give it a go.

I finished flipping and stacking the last block of cheese curd and then stood upright in my white wellington boots and answered Sam.

“Ah, no. I mean, what cheese would I make?”

That’s the only answer I could come up with. It was an honest response. For someone who is a poor decision maker and who loves all kinds of cheese, how could I select just one cheese to make? Would it be a hard, aged cheese or a soft, young one? Would it be made with cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s, or buffalo’s milk or a combination of them? Would it be a blue cheese, an orange washed rind, or one with a white bloomy rind? Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be a Cheddar cheese. I could never improve on what’s already out there.

Another reason it was difficult to answer Sam was because it was a genuine query and I was tempted by what he was proposing. Why don’t I become a cheesemaker? Sam and Rachel’s life in central Wales is one that I respect and greatly admire. Still quite young (around thirty years old), they gave up London, where they had studied and lived for almost 10 years, as well as their office jobs there, which paid them well, to live in the Welsh countryside. They were done with city life, and they wanted to help make Sam's father's farm economically viable. Bwlchwernen Fawr, which began as commune in the 1970s, as things did back then, is the longest standing registered organic dairy farm in Wales. Sam and Rachel have a good quality of life on the farm and they are doing good things by showing how to farm sustainably. And they make a damn good cheese, Hafod, a buttery and rich Cheddar-like cheese, made with raw, organic milk from the farm's herd of Ayrshire cows.

Could I do it? Would I do it? Because of Sam I am now indeed thinking about becoming a cheesemaker. But for now I am spending my days waxing hockey puck-sized rounds of shredded and flavored cheese on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.


anne said...

you make it sound very tempting.

Becca said...

You *do* make it sound appealing and I can so picturing you making your cheese. Hmmmmmmm?!

Anonymous said...

You'd make a great cheesemaker Diana - and we'll happily teach you how to make our cheese. Thank you so much for the book - it's fascinating. All the very best from Bwlchwernen, Sam