As the cheese lover of all cheese lovers, there has always been one, stinging disappointment for me on Northamptonshire’s fine food and drink landscape...
For many years, if ever (food historians are welcome to correct me on this, as I would like to know), there has not been a cheese widely manufactured within the county.
But husband and wife team, Gary and Rachael Bradshaw, have now corrected this culinary wrong by launching a company which makes cheeses right here in Northamptonshire.
Based at a unit in Kings Heath, Northampton, the recently established Hamm Tun Fine Foods is now manufacturing its own brand of a cheese which they compare in style to Wensleydale. And there are many more cheese varieties in the pipeline which look set to be launched as soon as the company’s name becomes more widely known in the county.
Gary explained that he used to work for a printers’ firm until he started making cheese. He said: “I started making it at home 18 months ago and it was quite nice. I took some to the St Giles Cheese Shop, in Northampton, and they wanted to know when they could buy it. I went on a cheese-making course and rented a unit. It is a bit different making it here than in my kitchen at home in one pot. I have always been into food and I did want to open a pizza shop originally. I have always wanted to work for myself, as you will never make money working for someone else.”
Manufacturing cheese on a larger scale than home production has been a learning curve for Gary.
He said: “It is the same recipe I used at home but not quite the same results. Here it is 12 degrees and at home in the fridge it is four or five, so it takes six weeks and not three months to mature.
“I knew there wasn’t a Northamptonshire cheese as I had tried to buy one myself. There aren’t many dairy farmers in Northamptonshire so it was a struggle to find milk, but now I use Newlands.
“The cheese we made is a Wensleydale style and has an open and crumbly texture.”
For anyone who has ever wondered how cheese is made, Gary explained the process. Roughly described, the milk is heated in a Bain Marie vat to 30 degrees. Then the ‘starter cultures’ are added, followed by the rennet, which helps to set the cheese.
Gary said: “It becomes a custard texture, then we wash it in the whey for three or four hours.
“Then we dry it off, mold it, press it for 36 hours and then we rub it with a muslin cloth and keep rubbing off the mould. The first couple of batches I had to write off, now it is going okay.”
He continued: “I love a good blue cheese, but people didn’t think there was enough of a market for it as it is an acquired taste. I wanted to start with something I knew would sell. Once we have got this cheese established, there will be others. We are working on an ale one and one with herbs.”
So, just in time for Christmas, some shops will this year be offering the rare sight of a Northampton cheese, courtesy of Hamm Tun Fine Foods.
The cheese is available to buy from Deli Barn at Heart Of The Shires, near Weedon; St Giles Cheese, in Northampton; and Emerson & Wests in Market Harborough. See www.hammtunfinefoods.co.uk