Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Cheese and Cheese-Making
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo


THE term "fancy cheese" has usually been applied to varieties produced from cream or full milk, or a mixture of cream and milk, which are small in size by comparison with the large cheeses of all countries, and which are unpressed, or only partially pressed, in the course of manufacture. But the Americans have applied the term to some cheeses which are pressed and which really have no claim to it in any sense of the word. Sometimes a private maker, who has a considerable reputation as a prize-taker, and who is in consequence enabled to obtain high prices, is termed a maker of "fancy" cheese for the simple reason that his product is excep­tionally excellent, and that it is obtainable only by those who are willing to pay the price for it.

It should be the duty of every maker to en­deavour to produce fancy cheese in this sense, but there is no fear of the article being placed before the public in too large a quantity, as there are comparatively few makers who excel, the great majority producing cheese of second quality. Fancy cheese has not been produced in this country to any considerable extent. We have already named a few varieties; there are, however, others which are worthy of the consideration of the manufacturer. On the Continent, and more particularly in France and Italy, there are numbers of small cheeses of various types produced in different localities, each of which has its admirers who consume it in large quantities, and who pay the producer a relatively larger sum per pound than is obtained by the makers of the huge pressed cheeses of Great Britain, America, and the Australian Colonies. Let us refer to some of these varieties. We have already mentioned the famous Gruyere of Switzerland, the Parmesan of Italy, both of which are pressed cheeses of considerable size; we have also referred to the blue cheeses made in our own country, to the Gorgonzola of Italy, and the Roquefort of France, as well as to the two leading soft cheeses made by different sections of the French people, the Brie and the Camembert. These varieties may be supple­mented by the Port du Salut, Pont l'Evêque, and Neufchâtel, the Gervais, Coulommiers, and Bondon, all of which are made in France.

PORT DU SALUT. — The Port du Salut has long been one of the most delicate and popular varieties made upon the Continent, but although there are numerous makers, those who produce the perfect article are extremely few in number. The system of manufacture has until recently been supposed to be the secret of the Trappist monks, a colony of whom are located at the Monastery of Bricquebec, in the Department of Manche. A few years ago I had the pleasure of accompanying to the north of France a party of our own countrymen who desired to see something of the dairy system pursued by the most successful among the Norman farmers. We were enabled to see a great deal in consequence of the kindness and liberality of several of the farmers and others with whom I was previously acquainted. But my application to the Monastery, although backed by an introduction from one of the highest officials in the French Agricultural Department, was met by the response that no outsider was ever allowed to see the process of manufacture pursued; that, in a word, the monks could not trust their own friends, who under the guise of curiosity had in previous years apparently taken advantage of the privilege extended to them to describe something of the system pursued, and thus to place other people in possession of a secret which is so jealously guarded. Secrets of this kind, however, are not long-lived, and it is impossible to prevent those who are acquainted with the principles of cheese-making from producing a variety of this character if they care to take the trouble to make a few thoughtful and well-arranged ex­periments for themselves. The Port du Salut cheese is not unlike a variety made in this country and known as the Caerphilly; it is circular in form, flat, about an inch in thickness, and partially pressed. The pâté, or flesh of the cheese, is extremely mellow or creamy, and yet homogeneous and firm in consistence, although there are a large number of holes throughout, which are characteristic of the variety, and which, in proportion to their size and number, are concurrent with its flavour. The milk is brought to a temperature of 86° F., and sufficient rennet is added to bring the curd in thirty minutes. The temperature is slightly varied with the season, as with almost every other variety of cheese, while the rennet used is in proportion to the quality of the milk. The curd, which is primarily deprived of a portion of its whey by gravitation, is subsequently en­closed in a mould which is lined with a strainer-cloth, and subjected to slight pressure. The press generally used is of a very simple character; a number of screws are placed side by side on a beam, several cheeses being pressed at the same time. The screws are really turned by hand, so that it will be seen in a moment how slight and simple the process is. Port du Salut, having been deprived of its superfluous water, is ripened at a temperature of 54° F. The object is to prevent it becoming dry, and to ensure that slow process of change which is brought about by bacteria, so that it will be soft, mellow, nutty, and yet mild in flavour. This variety is already sold in England, and it is appreciated in London, where it is growing in favour. It is one of the most delicious cheeses, and its character is such that if it became better known to the English people it would be more highly appreciated, and would obtain a considerable sale. I know of no variety which is more worthy of pro­duction, and those who take it in hand will not only find that it is easily made, but that it will return them a profit far in excess of anything which can be obtained by the manufacture of the pressed cheeses which are made in such large quantities.

PONT L'EVÊQUE. — Pont l'Evêque cheese is a variety with a great local reputation in the north of one of the most important dairy depart­ments of France. It takes its name from a village not far from Havre and Lisieux, and is sold in considerable quantities in the fashion­able watering-places of Trouville and Deauville. I was enabled to see the system pursued by the most famous maker, a highly intelligent farmer, upon his own farm near Pont l'Evêque. This cheese, although unpressed, is firmer in texture than either the Brie 0r the Camembert, owing to its being deprived of its whey with much greater rapidity. The cheese is either square or oblong, slightly less than an inch in thickness, and weigh­ing from 14 to 17 ounces, for the size is not uniform; its crust is comparatively tough, and it may be kept for a considerable time with safety. Practically speaking, a gallon of milk will produce a good cheese, but as milk varies considerably in quality, it follows that very rich milk would produce a much larger cheese than poor milk. The milk is set at a temperature of 88° F., with sufficient rennet to bring the curd in fifteen minutes. A large rush or rye-straw mat is laid upon the draining-table. This mat may measure a yard in length by 26 to 30 inches in width, in accordance with the quantity of curd handled. When the curd is firm enough to remove, it is gently cut in cubes of large size, and with equal gentleness removed with a metal dish on to the mat, where it immediately commences to part with its whey. As the whey runs off, the curd toughens, the ends of the mat are drawn together, the slight pressure involved causes a still further loss of whey, and this goes on until the curd can be handled and placed in the metal moulds, which are made in accordance with the size the cheeses are intended to be. The newly-moulded cheese is then placed upon a small mat, and on the evening of the first day turned on to another mat. The result is that both sides of the cheese are free from fractures, the curd being homogeneous, and both are marked with the straws. It need hardly be added that where a large number of cheeses are made the mats are numerous and large, and provision is made for the moulds to stand side by side in order that space may be economized. Turning goes on from day to day until the metal mould is re­moved. Fungi then gradually appear on the out­side of the cheese until it is ultimately covered with blue. This growth depends upon the tem­perature adopted: in the first stage of manu­facture the temperature of the dairy is 63°; when the cheese is removed into the first ripening apartment it is kept at 58°, and when it is taken to the cave for slow ripening, it is kept at 56°. Here, again, the apartment should be slightly humid as well as cool, one reason being that it is essential to maintain the moist character of the cheese, and to prevent the evaporation which, if allowed to continue, would ensure its being dry, unpalatable, and unsalable.

GERVAIS. — The Gervais cheese is a delicate little luxury produced upon an enormous scale by several makers in France, two of whom are pre-eminent, M. Gervais and M. Pommel, both of Gournay. These makers produce millions in the course of a year. M. Gervais supplies Paris, sending up fabulous numbers every day; M. Pommel, I believe by private arrangement with his neighbour, supplies other markets, in­cluding that of London. I have paid a visit to both establishments, and was able to see a great deal that was interesting and instructive in the factory of M. Pommel. Gervais is a mixture of cream and milk; it is unnecessary to suggest what proportion should be used, inasmuch as every maker has his own idea, but one-third of average cream mixed with two-thirds of whole milk will produce a most palatable and luxurious cheese. The essence of this system is the low tem­perature at which the mixture is set, 65° F.

The rennet added is so small in quantity — it is also mixed with water — that coagulation is not complete for from eight to ten hours: indeed, one maker made a practice of delaying coagulation until twenty-four hours. The object after the removal of the curd is to extract the whey, and one of the simplest plans is to suspend it in a cloth or bag until it is sufficiently firm to be removed to the Gervais press. The somewhat firm curd is laid in a cloth, which is placed within a slatted wooden frame from six to nine inches in depth, and a heavy wooden block is then placed upon it: examination takes place from time to time until the curd is perfect in texture. It is then placed in batteries of little moulds which have been already lined with specially made unglazed paper — in order to envelop each cheese — on the outside of which the maker stamps his name and address. These cheeses are extremely profitable, and, partaking so much of the character of cream (with which the flavour of the cheese is combined), they are readily salable at a remunerative price.

BONDON. — Bondon cheese is largely made in the country districts around Rouen. It is produced entirely from milk, and is an important industry among the very small farmers and cot­tagers of that part of France. Once, upon a visit to a large farm in the district, I was taken to see the dairies of a number of the smaller occupiers, whose wives my conductor systematically but fraternally kissed, and who were really the makers. Bondon, like Gervais, is extremely small, and from seven to nine cheeses are made from one gallon of average milk. The milk is set at a low temperature, and the curd takes a long time in coagulation. It is removed when firm to a strainer-cloth which has been stretched by the four corners over a vessel somewhat resembling an ordinary washing-tub. Here it gradually parts with its whey, being occasionally and gently moved, when the curd forms a coat which prevents the passage of the whey through the cloth. At a certain stage it is removed into a clean cloth, which is folded over it, covered with a board, and gently pressed. The right con­sistence having been obtained, the little cheeses are moulded by hand in a most expert manner, the mould being a small copper cylinder some three inches in length by an inch and a half or thereabouts in diameter. I am bound to say that the process is difficult for an inexperienced maker, but like every other difficulty, it can be overcome by patience and practice. The cheeses are sub­sequently salted, and either sold at the end of a week in their fresh and white form, or kept in a cave until they have been covered with mould, when their flavour is enhanced and their value increased. They are sent in trays to the mar­kets, the smaller makers sending weekly or fortnightly, and the larger makers nearly every day. In the manufacture of the Neufchâtel, which resembles the Bondon in form, care is taken to prevent the curd being too close and homogeneous; the curd is drained without pres­sure, and in consequence of its lighter texture when moulded, the spores of the common blue fungus, Penicillium glaucum, are enabled to develop during the ripening process, so that the interior of the cheese is blue as a Stilton and is prized in consequence, realizing a higher figure in the market.

For some years several of these varieties have been sold in the London and other markets in considerable numbers, but these quantities do not represent what would be considered an extensive industry were they produced in this country. Coming from France, they realize prices which, in consequence of the cost of car­riage, are, perhaps, a little more considerable than they need be. If, however, we remember that a cheese which can be made at the rate of seven or eight to the gallon of rich milk, as is the case with the Neufchâtel, realizes 3d., it fol­lows that the remuneration which the farmer obtains by producing a cheese of this character is very considerable as compared with the small prices which milk obtains in the open markets.

Lastly, a few words about the Coulommiers cheese, which is made in the Brie district. I believe this to be one of the most important and most delicious cheeses made on the Continent, and it was the first the manufacture of which I introduced into this country. The first lessons I received in the principles of its pro­duction were given me by a very famous maker, Madame Decauville, of Coulommiers, who produces an article of the very first quality. It resembles the Camembert in form, but is slightly smaller in diameter, and thicker. It is made upon the Brie principle, and may be sold new at the end of a week with great advan­tage, for in this state it is much appreciated by the people of England; but ripened, and sold at the end of six or seven weeks, it is infinitely more delicious, and will return from 11d. to 1s. per gallon for all the milk utilized in its production.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.