How It’s Made
Ever wondered how you start out with milk and end up with cheese?
It’s impossible to make good quality cheese from poor milk, so it’s vital that the quality of milk is maintained when making cheese. We’re confident in our quality thanks to the exceptional standard of milk supplied to us by our member farmers. Welsh milk has been consistently recognised as a higher quality than the national average. We think that’s down to the lush pastures and green fields in which the cows graze!
From the cow to the Creamery
There can never be a day off in farming. Cows have to be milked twice every day, in the morning and in the evening. Consequently, we have to collect milk from our member farmers seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Our own liveried tankers travel across North Wales, Mid Wales and Ceredigion each and every day, visiting farms to transport their milk back to the Creamery. A record is made of how much milk the farmer has produced and a sample is regularly taken at the farm so that we can test the quality. The milk then starts its journey towards the Creamery to be processed.
Welcome to the Creamery
As soon as the tanker arrives back at the Creamery the milk is pumped into a silo from where it is pumped to the pasteuriser. Pasteurisation is straightforward: the milk is heated to a specific temperature and immediately cooled. Pasteurisation destroys any harmful bacteria, and this process does not affect the nutritional composition of the milk.
Once pasteurisation is complete, the milk is pumped to the cheese-making vats for the next stage.
The start of Making Cheese
Starter cultures are added to the milk. A ‘starter’ is a special blend of bacteria, which is similar to natural yogurt. The starter converts the milk sugar, lactose, to acid to start the cheesemaking process. If coloured cheese is being made a natural colour, an extract from the Brazilian lipstick plant, is added to the acidifying milk.
Then Vegetarian rennet is added to coagulate the milk, causing it to form into a large junket like a blancmange. The junket is then cut to separate into curds and whey.
The curd is what becomes cheese. The curds and whey are stirred together before the whey is drained over a large sieve. The curd then passes through a machine, called a ‘Cheddaring’ machine which helps the curds knit together. The curd is then milled into small chips.
Stirring, Salting & Block Forming
After the curd is milled into small chips, it is blown to open tables where it is continually stirred and turned to help to drain away any remaining whey. It’s then at this point that we need to salt the cheese. At South Caernarfon Creameries, we have retained many traditional processes, one of which is that we still salt the cheese by hand. This enables us to retain a level of flexibility and is something that many of our commercial counterparts do not offer.
Once the salt has been added and it’s all mixed in, the curd chips are blown to ‘blockformers’; towers which enable the sheer weight of the cheese, under vacuum, to form a neat, 20kg block.
Off To Mature:
Once the cheese has been formed into a 20kg block, it is vacuum sealed in a plastic bag and packed into cardboard cases and transferred to a cool store for maturing. Now, this can be a lengthy process as a cheese can mature for anything up to 2 years!
We have a team of experienced Cheese Graders on site who continually monitor and taste the cheese. As cheese ages, its flavour becomes fuller and more intensive and their knowledge, skill and experience know which cheeses are best left to mature for a longer period of time, and which are best being used at a younger age for milder palettes. No wonder they are official judges at International Cheese events!
So what about the whey? …
We don’t like waste, so the whey that is collected from the milk is transferred to a reverse osmosis plant, to concentrate it. We then sell this onto a company who turns the whey into animal feed; so you could argue, it goes full circle!
Packing, Labelling & Delivering
Once the cheese is at it’s preferred maturity (whether it’s mild or mature), the cheese leaves the comfort of the cold store and heads over to our packing areas. Here it is cut into the required size blocks from 100g to 2.5kg blocks that you will see on a supermarket deli counter. The cheese is wrapped into an air-tight film, labelled and boxed to head off to be sold to our customers.