Clare recently met two of East Anglia’s leading cheesemakers Julie Cheyney of Whitewood Dairy and the Crickmores of Fen Farm Dairy, both of whom are based at Fen Farm’s cheesemaking rooms near Bungay.
Here Clare writes about meeting Julie Cheyney maker of St Jude:
Our visit to Fen Farm fell on a Wednesday afternoon and it didn’t take long to discover why Julie Cheyney had suggested we visit then. Fen Farm Dairy and Julie’s Whitewood Dairy share the farm’s cheese making rooms, working alternately and overlapping on Wednesdays, so by coming on a Wednesday we were able to see both cheesemakers in action.
Julie welcomed us at the door with a strict instructions to remove our shoes, jewellery and wash our hands thoroughly before donning hair nets, white coats and dairy shoes. Once inside Julie told us more about what prompted her to move her life and business to Suffolk - primarily the opportunity to source her milk from a farmer who really looks after his cows. Fen Farm’s Montbeliarde cattle produce a protein-rich milk which is perfect for cheesemaking and the Crickmore’s high standards of husbandry mean the cows lead a low stress life with a good diet of natural forage, which enhances the quality of the milk.
Julie Cheyney is a hugely experienced cheesemaker with a background in dairy farming and a degree from agricultural college. Her understanding of the connection between farming and cheesemaking is fascinating. She spoke of the many variables and subtleties in the process starting with the quality of the milk and its seasonal changes due to changes in the cows’ diet.
Julie learned to milk cows as a teenager and became intrigued by the process of cheesemaking. She visited cheesemakers around the UK and Europe to learn the art of farmhouse cheesemaking. She went on to co-create the award winning Tunworth brie-style cheese in Hampshire which was Supreme Champion at British Cheese Awards in 2006. Julie started making St Jude in 2012 in Hampshire but her quest for the best possible quality milk brought her to Fen Farm in Suffolk in 2014.
Julie works closely with the Crickmore family and their farm manager so she knows as much as she can about the milk she is using. Despite using the same milk and the same cheesemaking room, Julie’s Whitewood Dairy produces a very different style of cheese to the brie-like Baron Bigod. St Jude is a lactic cheese in the style of a classic French St Marcellin.
“Slow and Gentle” is Julie’s mantra and it takes nearly twice as long to make a St Jude - up to twelve hours compared to Baron Bigod’s four or five hours. Each step of the process is done by hand and under Julie’s watchful eye.
The milk travels to the cheese room from the milking parlour using a gravity feed; it is not pumped as this can damage the fat globules in the milk and affect the cheese causing it to go rancid more quickly. Once cultures and animal rennet are added to the milk, the cheese is left to acidify and set. Julie lives very close to the dairy so she’s able to return regularly, both day and night, to check its progress. If it reaches the right acidity at 4am in the morning then she will start ladling then - such is Julie’s dedication to her craft.
Once set the curds are cut and ladled by hand into the small moulds to drain under their own weight. The next morning the cheeses are turned and salt is rubbed on one side before repeating the process and salting the other side in the afternoon.
Most of Julie’s cheese goes to Neal’s Yard in London aged just four or five days old, where they mature it for another two or three weeks before it comes to our cheese counter at Lawson’s. Recently Neal’s Yard have worked with Julie to develop a new cheese, St Cera: some of the young St Judes are salt washed and placed in a wooden box half way through the maturation period. This enables more moisture retention in the cheese resulting in a more unctuous texture and an intense farmyard flavour.
Before we leave we taste a couple of different St Judes - one is just a week old, the other a month old. The older cheese has a light dusting of white mould, a complex flavour and dense texture. The younger cheese is fresh and grassy.
As we nibble, we ask Julie how she came up with the name St Jude for her cheese. “He’s the patron saint of lost causes” Julie tells us. “In France they say when everything else is on its knees, St Jude is still standing.”
I feel certain that St Jude in the form of Julie’s cheese will be standing for many years to come.
Julie will be at Lawson’s on Monday 29 May for a tasting and to chat about her cheese.