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Handmade Somerset Cheese comes to Mole Valley Farmers




Family cheese culture comes to Mole Valley Farmers

Somerset cheese at Mole Valley Farmers

Having started making cheese on their Somerset farm in 1833, the Barber family are the oldest surviving cheddar-makers in the world and will now be producing all of Mole Valley Farmers’ tasty cheddar range.

 

Barber’s dairy production manager, Dave Miller can get a fair idea of the weather, what cows are being fed and what tweaks he needs to make to the cheese making process, just by feeling the texture of cheese curds. “The biggest change is when cows go out to grass. The curds immediately feel a lot softer due to the softer fats in the milk,” explains Dave.

 

It’s this knowledge that no doubt forms part of the recipe for success that has seen the Barber family’s cheese business thrive for over 200 years, across six generations. Although the business has somewhat evolved since Daniel Barber first started making cheese in 1833, the ethos and principles of making farmhouse cheddar have remained the same. In fact, the “cultures” or “friendly cheese making bacteria” the family use today are the same ones used in the early days of cheese making, which Charlie Barber believes makes the cheddar stand.

 

“We use specific cultures which are indigenous bacteria from the South West, we’re using the same cultures that go back 70 odd years,” he says.
 

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The Barbers believe it’s these cultures that are the most important factor in determining the flavour of the finished cheese. Such is the strength of their conviction, that whilst other cheddar makers have chosen to shift to using entirely freeze dried, powder cultures (DVIs), developed in the eighties, the family have primarily stuck to the traditional method.

 

“DVIs are incredibly robust, but contain limited numbers of flavour producing bacteria so the cheese flavour lacks the complexity you get with liquid cultures,” adds Charlie.

 

To ensure the continued availability of liquid cultures, Barbers are now the only cheddar cheese culture producer in the UK and now sell cultures to around 15 other cheese producers. However, Barbers are the only block cheddar maker using them.

 

In the family’s processing plant at Maryland Farm, Ditcheat, 16 different culture blends are used to make cheddar. Rotating the different blends between milk batches is essential to ensure the bacteria keeps working at its best. Each mix has its own impact on the cheddar’s taste, with some cultures producing a more rounded, natural sweetness and others a more savoury, meaty taste.

 

“Our cheese is unique for its complexity and authenticity of flavour and it has a heritage in the cultures that run through it that I think makes it stand out above all other cheddars,” says Charlie.

Barber's facts

 

After being processed, the cheese is stacked and stored in wooden boxes at 12oC for up to 24 months, depending on the vintage being produced. Cheese is then graded by a specialist grader and committee including Charlie and Giles Barber.

 

“All of the cheeses for Mole Valley Farmers will be personally selected. For Mole Valley Farmers, we’re looking for a nice, rounded cheese with savoury cheddar notes,” explains Charlie.

 

Barbers will produce around 65t of cheddar a year for Mole Valley Farmers stores. A range of aged cheddars from three - four months to 20 months old will be available to suit different customer’s tastes.

 

Charlie adds: “We see a similar culture with Mole Valley Farmers. We’re looking to supply the best quality at good value. Mole Valley Farmers and Barbers values and are not too far apart. We both keep a keen eye on efficiencies - we have a bit of scale here which means efficiencies can be passed on to customers.”

 

Although the size of the business has grown considerably since the founding years of Daniel Barber, the enterprise has always been family run and has remained in and around Ditcheat throughout. Perhaps one of the biggest changes came under Jack and Gerald Barber who built the dairy at Maryland Farm to meet increasing demand. In the present day, the business is headed up by Charlie, Chris, Giles and Anthony Barber.

 

As one of only a few block cheddar makers with a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) for West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, the business must have their own cows and use their own milk. The farm aspect of the company has also evolved, with Chris now running the family’s eight herds. A further four herds are also run in share farming partnerships, bringing total cow numbers to over 3,000. Increasing demand means milk is also sourced from around 120 local farmers in Somerset and Dorset. This is again essential for the PDO, which stipulates milk must come from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

 

Forage systems and particularly those with an emphasis on grazing are a focus for the Barbers. However, Dave admits that grazing creates challenges with the cheese making process.

 

“There’s more variability in the quality of the milk at grass. It does make it a trickier cheese making process, but equally that’s when the best cheese is made as the fats are softer. The hardest for us is when it’s a wet summer and the cows go in and out.”

 

However, with Dave’s 20 years of experience, he is quick to pick up any changes and tweak stirring or acidity levels accordingly, so that every piece of cheese on your cream cracker or cheese and ham toastie delivers on authenticity and flavour.

 



Source Details

 627 Mole Valley Farmers Newsletter



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