We visited London's artisan cheese retailer to find out how to they select, mature and sell the UK's best cheese.
One of the highlights of our week over at Elysia is visiting the Neal’s Yard Dairy shop at Borough Market on a Monday morning. The thought of talking to the extremely knowledgeable, very friendly staff behind the counter and sampling their outstanding cheeses gets us out of bed and on the cargo bike in the morning.
Neal’s Yard Dairy began around 40 years ago producing their own dairy. They now have three activities: they select, mature and sell cheeses but don’t actually produce them. Their team travels around the UK and Ireland all year round selecting the best cheeses and developing strong relationships with the country’s finest cheesemakers.
Today the Elysia's team were lucky enough to get an intimate tour of the warehouse where all the cheese magic happens by general cheese expert Lucy (in fact, the unique thing about Neal's Yard Dairy is that all the staff there are cheese experts. Lucy told us that on her first day working with the company she was in charge of washing the soft cheeses in the warehouse. What a first day!).
We started our tour by kitting out in white coats and shoe covers to stop any outside germs affecting the cheeses.
What we learned on our tour:
The floor of the warehouse is kept wet to maintain a humid environment. This stops the cheeses from drying out and ensures they stay moist and creamy.
Neal's Yard Dairy uses controlled fridges to keep all their soft cheeses at the perfect temperature to mature. Then there is a final, much colder refrigerated room that is used as a waiting area for cheeses that are ready to be sold. This is kept cold so that the flavours and moulds don’t develop any more.
The veins in blue cheese aren’t naturally occurring - in fact they are poked in using a process called needling which develops the classic mould lines which give a distinctive flavour and look to blue cheese.
The dark, greyish mould found on some cheeses is in fact created by rolling the cheeses in charcoal.
Different batches of a certain cheese take on different moulds depending on their environment so no cheese looks the same as the last.
The orange mould on these soft cheeses is naturally occurring thanks to a process called “rind washing” with salt. This is a shot taken from the fridge with maturing soft cheeses.
The maturing cheeses in these fridges are constantly tasted by the team and need to be turned and flipped regularly so that the flavour develops evenly throughout the cheese.
The tool used to taste from the middle of the wheel is called a cheese trier.
There is a good reason why cheddar is the most well-known British cheese. During the Second World War and for nearly a decade after, the government encouraged cheese makers around Britain to adopt cheddar cheese making methods as part of war economies and rationing as it is such a quick and relatively easy cheese to make. It is also rich and nutritious for the population’s diet. The cheddar at Neal’s Yard Dairy is still made in the traditional way, made using raw milk, in Somerset, wrapped in a cloth and aged for at least one year.
If you’d like to sample some of the outstanding cheeses that Neal's Yard Dairy, we highly recommend heading over to their Borough Market and Covent Garden shops - or their Bermondsey warehouse next to us on Saturday morning - to have a chat with their amazingly knowledgeable staff about the best British cheeses on offer.
More information on nealsyarddairy.co.uk