Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Cheddaring Workout


Cheddaring is hard work. I've seen men with biceps as large as Rafael Nadal's sweat doing it. I myself become exhausted and cranky, especially if I've gotten up at 4:30 in the morning to be at the dairy by 5:45 a.m. What pulls me through is the payoff of a stray tidbit of tangy and salty fresh cheese curd, as well as the need to save face. I may be a woman, with scrawny biceps, but I can still cheddar!

After months of overindulgence (I know, I go on and on about this), I was looking forward to four full weeks of cheddaring at Isle of Mull Cheese in Scotland. It was going to be my workout, one to tone my arms and burn off excess calories, or at least the ones from eating fresh cheese curd.

But it wasn't to be. Isle of Mull Cheese doesn't cheddar their Cheddar. They stir it. And they do it with a machine. Mechanically stirring the curd doesn't develop anyone's biceps.

Instead of letting the curd particles knit together after the whey has been drained off and then cutting the curd into thick slabs and flipping and stacking these slabs every fifteen minutes or so (see photo above from Westcombe Dairy), the cheesemaker on Mull lets the curd particles rest in a big heap in the center of the cooling table and then periodically mixes it with rotating paddles. All he does is push a button.

This was a real surprise to me. I assumed that they cheddared their cheese, as most farmhouse producers do. It's usually just in the large-scale production of Cheddar that the curd gets stirred. There goes that workout I was hoping for.

I am not the only one who's surprised. One of the guys in the dairy, a young Aussie from Perth who ultimately wants to make cheese from the milk of merino sheep, told me, "Everyone's spun out when they find out that we don't cheddar our cheese." I love that Aussie expression.

Even Will Studd, the master of cheese in Australia who came to the farm on Sunday with a camera crew to film a segment for his great travel series about cheese, Cheese Slices, was "spun out." He didn't say this in so many words, but he called me over to the cooling table, where he was standing with the head cheesemaker, watching the blades spin around, stirring up the mass of curd particles. I was at the other side of the dairy, larding truckles and dressing them in wee strips of muslin.

"Di, you're the Cheddar expert. What makes a cheese a Cheddar?"

I was in a tricky position here. Do I give Will the answer that he was looking for, viz. that a true Cheddar should be hand-cheddared. Or should my answer be more diplomatic in front of the head cheesemaker?

"Well, I think a Cheddar should be cheddared, but Chris just told me yesterday that stirring the curd has the same effect as cheddaring. By the time the curds are milled, they have the same cooked chicken breast texture that cheddared curd does. Also, Mull doesn't call their cheese a Cheddar."

"No, we would never call our cheese a Cheddar. Other people do, but we don't." There was a hint of frustration and defensiveness in Chris's voice. I am sure she has to explain her stirred-curd method more often than she would like.

"It's good that you don't. I wouldn't want you to. Cheddar's made in Somerset, in England, and you're up here on an island in Scotland. You've got something completely different and unique going on."

Ah, so Will was giving his definition of Cheddar.

"So, Will, can Cheddar only be made in Somerset?"

"That's for you to figure out and write in your book," Will winked.

My book. Since my body's not getting a work out, my mind might as well. I'll have plenty of time to do that while my thoughts drift as I lard truckles and wax 200-gram wheels of flavored Cheddar. What is Cheddar cheese?

But maybe they'll let me scoop the chipped curd out of the cooling table and into the hoops. That's a workout, too. And they do that by hand.

1 comment:

rkukuc said...

"the cheesemaker on Mull lets the curd particles rest in a big heap in the center of the cooling table and then periodically mixes it with rotating paddles. All he does is push a button." i think we do more not just push a button Diana