“Cheddar. There’s a fair bit of it about. Serried ranks of the stuff in every multiple retailer. Offers galore on the aisle end, “Rollback” “Deal of the Week” “Buy one get three Free”. If you look very closely you will see the actual price per kg and I don’t know how they do it – I mean it barely covers the cost of the milk. Most is produced as a 20kg block, matured in a massive vacuum pouch and cut into bits and available as Mild, Farmhouse, Mature, Vintage, White, Coloured, all with tremendous artwork, great marketing and easy packs that are resealable with ziplocs. Inevitably it has become commoditised, so much is sold on promotion because, well why wouldn’t you? It’s nearly all very good, perfect for sandwiches, cheese sauce, in a baked potato. So when a tiny little insignificant nothing of a producer decides to make cheddar you either have to be extremely good at it and/or very cheap.
We started making cheddar because it seemed like something UK cheesemakers do. We went for traditional, barrel shaped, cloth bound cheddars and quickly filled a ripening room and then waited and waited and waited for it to mature. I mean make a tub of Crowdie today and sell it this afternoon. Make a brie, wrap in a week and then sell, even blue is good to go in 8 weeks. But not cheddar, oh no, that’s a minimum 9 months, indeed some of ours is now nearly 20 months old.
Obviously, I want to suggest mine is best, but it’s an expensive way to make macaroni, or add additional flavour to a pizza, you just wouldn’t do that when so much of the stuff is available for so much less in your local supermarket. And so in 2018 we decided that the way forward was to go soft, focus on faster ripening, gooey, moreish, flavoursome mould ripened brie, blue and washed rinds. We already had a good market for these products and wanted to concentrate more on these styles. So with much huff and puff we said “no more cheddar” and let out a huge sigh of relief as we realised the cash sitting maturing along with the cash saved from all the frequent visits to my chiropractor. I mean it’s hard work! I actually break sweat.
Roll on to 2019 and the usual lull in the proceedings post-Christmas meant that we had a surplus of milk. Also one of our farms is producing almost 40% more than last year and then we remembered the other reason it’s good to make cheddar. For when you have a milk surplus either during quiet times in the year or owing to the spring flush you can always knock out a few hundred kilos, double wrap it in cloth (calico) and put it away for a year before having to worry about selling some. You see if we make Crowdie with all that spare milk we have to shift it quickly otherwise it will go off to land-fill, same for brie or blue, faster-maturing cheeses will go over the top sooner and if you haven’t the market the losses will soon mount.
I’d love to say that this was all about popular demand. That people were parading around the dairy shouting “we shall not be moved” until we gave in and started making it again. Well that wasn’t the case but we have received many kind and supportive messages from people saying they are delighted and we have a sniff at some quite nice business across the Atlantic so, I suppose, we will stick with the job and I will just ask the wife for more massages.
Cheddar is back but it never really left for we are still selling some 2017 stock and there’s plenty from early 2018 that we made before I had my brain storm.”
– Rory Stone, Top Cheesemaker.