As a key supplier our chef team were very keen to visit the Neal’s Yard maturation arches in South East London, where all the hard work in cheese making goes on. A team of chefs including Ben Tish, Chef Director where shown round the spaces by Lucy from Neal’s Yard who could tell us all about the magic that goes on in as well as giving us all the chance to sample an incredible selection of different varieties of cheese.
As well as a fantastic tour around the dairy we asked Lucy a few questions about Neal’s Yard.
What is your role in the company and what’s great about Neal’s Yard Diary?
I am a Wholesale Account manager, predominately working with restaurants, up and down the UK. Working at NYD offers a broad experience. From our strong relationships with the cheesemakers paired with our expertise in cheese maturation and eventually selecting the right cheese for the right customer, means you get a full picture of the process: from milking a cow through to plating a cheeseboard.
We take great pride in the quality of our produce at Cubitt House and hugely value our partnership with Neal’s Yard Diary in providing us with the very best British and Irish cheese across all our pubs. Can you tell us what makes your cheese so great?
It starts on the farm, we work with cheesemakers and farms who care for their animals properly, are making responsible decisions relating to the land and environment, and as result make cheese with great tasting milk. We then have a team of buyers who are visiting cheesemakers all the time, selecting the cheese we like to eat and hopefully the cheese our customers enjoy too.
Our maturation team in Bermondsey care for the cheeses, getting them to peak condition for sale. And finally, the sales team and cheesemongers in our shops work hard to find the right cheese for each customer. All our cheeses are made by hand, so we taste a huge amount of seasonal variation – this is something we chose to celebrate as ultimately, it’s a true reflection of the work that goes into making the cheese great.
What practices are undertaken in your storage and ageing facilities that ensure the very best quality and tasting cheese?
With soft cheese it comes to us quite young, about a week or so after it’s been made. Work with soft cheese is very hands on, and progress is quick. We asses cheese when it arrives by tasting, and sometimes probing to measure moisture levels. We then follow a pathway of maturation bespoke to that cheese which involves storing it in a series of rooms which are set at different temperatures and humidity levels. The hands-on work with Ragstone for example, involves ‘patting down’ the fluffy white mould so the rind develops evenly, and turning the cheese every other day. We also wash several cheeses to encourage specific rind growth.
With hard cheese, we selected on farm and it arrives with us when it’s very nearly ready to sell. It’s kept unwrapped on wooden shelving in a cave like environment. Hard cheeses are turned by hand every week and brushed to keep cheese mites at bay!
The cheese team also carry about lots of maturing experiments. A recent one had them mature six identical wheels of Brunswick Blue in 6 different environments for different amounts of time. Once the experiment was complete, as a company we blind tasted them all, and voted for the cheese we most enjoyed and decided to sell.
And….what’s your favourite cheese?
Depends on the day of the week!
Kirkham’s Lancashire will always be up there. If we’re in summer, it’s great to eat fresh Ewe’s milk cheese like Brefu Bach and St James which aren’t made in winter. Finally, Stonebeck Wensleydale is buttery, rich, and delicious. It’s made with milk from a tiny herd of 30 Northern Dairy Shorthorns in deepest Nidderdale, to a historic recipe found in early 20th Century cheesemaking books.