An Afternoon with Blackwoods Cheese Company

Graceburn
As a huge cricket fan, you would assume that spending six days at the Salisbury Christmas Market with an Australian during England’s recent humiliation down under would be unbearable. Luckily though, Cam and I share a love for traditionally crafted artisan cheese as well. After spending a week together in a smelly cheese-filled chalet, I got to learn a bit about Blackwoods Cheese Company. Set up in 2013 by Cam and his three mates Dave, Rory and Tim, the company makes delicious fresh cheese in Brockley, South East London, using raw organic cow’s milk.

Yesterday I went with Cam to Commonwork’s Organic Dairy Farm to collect the milk for a batch of Graceburn – a fantastic creamy feta-like cheese marinated in oil and herbs. We loaded ten empty milk buckets into the company van – a wagon that bears the faded liveries of both Monmouth Coffee Company and Neal’s Yard Dairy on its sides. We headed south east, gradually leaving the city smoke behind and beating our way into rural kent, past muddy field gates and through winter woodlands.

It was imperative that we arrived just as the cows were having their afternoon milk. in the tank room next to the parlour, we filled the buckets with rich warm milk that came gushing from the pipe all frothy and steaming. While Cam filled up, I sprinkled cheese culture into each bucket so that by the time we were back on the road to London, the cheese making process had already begun.

As we got back on the M20, Canary Warf and the Shard loomed big and bright in the distance. When we got back to Blackwoods HQ, I got suited and booted and received delivery of the milk from Cam through a hatch in the inner factory wall. After adding the rennet and with the room temperature a steady 18 degrees centigrade, our work was done – the curds are then given time to form, before being cut, wrapped in cheesecloth and steeped in brine the next day.

We agreed that we should reward our efforts with beers and Chinese food. After a quick bus journey over to Camberwell, we met up with Rory and Dave, two of the other Blackwoods boys. Over pints and the best Chinese food I have ever eaten (at Silk Road), I got a sense of the exciting stage Blackwoods Cheese Company is at. With orders for their first three fresh cheeses picking up and a new washed rind cheese in the pipeline, the lads are really beginning to see their hard work paying off. An Australian raw milk cheese company taking the English market by storm. What better model to pursuade the Australian Food Standards Agency of the value and importance of raw milk cheese?

You can purchase Blackwoods Cheese Company’s cheeses direct from Cam, Dave, Rory and Tim at Brockley Market and Hearne Hill Market, or from their friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market and Covent Garden.

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From pasture to pantry; the journey of a Great British cheese

My Introduction to the world of cheese came unexpectedly one summers evening five years ago. I was at the local cricket pitch on a thursday evening when I met Will Atkinson who, with his wife Caroline, had just moved from London to establish a herd of milking goats. At the time I needed money to go travelling and Tom to supplement his student loan. We began working at Hill Farm that summer; mucking out barns, helping to inoculate the herd  and trimming hooves among other farm maintenance jobs.

After a while I got to know the goats quite well. The herd is made up of British Toggenburgs, British Saanans and Anglo Nubians; the first two for their good milk yield and the latter for the high butterfat and protein levels in their milk. They like eating fresh hay and the bark and leaves of deciduous trees. They will gobble up nettles that have just been cut but they won’t bite into one that is growing. they don’t like drinking out of dirty water troughs, nor do they much enjoy the rain. They enjoy head-butting  and climbing on pretty much anything they can get their hooves on; especially if it happens to be a fencing rail you are trying to hammer to a post, or the truck that you are trying to load.

Goat

While in London Caroline had worked at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and from the start of their cheese-making careers, she and Will had the support of what is widely known as “London’s foremost cheese Store” (Dana Bowen, The New York Times). According to Neal’s Yard Dairy’s website their ethos involves keeping ‘in close contact with the cheese-makers’, and in my experience this cooperation is the keystone of the company’s success. It was during one of these visits that Tom and I sat down to lunch with Will, Caroline and David Lockwood, Neal’s Yard’s Managing Director.  We shared some excellent Stawley Cheese and a loaf of Dad’s white sourdough. At the end of the meal David offered me and Tom Christmas temp work in Neal’s Yard’s Borough Market shop.

Stawley Cheese

Stawley Cheese

The following three Christmasses I spent the ten days leading up to Christmas Eve plying my trade as a cheesemonger. Following the cheese’s journey from the rich green pasture of Somerset to the cobbled streets of Borough Market, I trod the path that millions have trod before me for over eight hundred years; bringing the abundance of the countryside to feed the people living and working in the metropolis.

We have are over 700 varieties of cheese in these isles now (more than the French), and Neal’s Yard Dairy is a showcase for some of the best of them. It is always a pleasure to work alongside like-minded people, and the queue out the door and down the street is a challenge I relished. Whether you’re after a whole Colston Bassett Stilton or few 100g pieces, the dairy staff will ensure you taste plenty of different cheeses to find the right one for you. The fact that Hill Farm’s Stawley happened to be the right cheese for many of my customers is purely coincidental!