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THE making of this cheese is practically confined to the beautiful dales that render the north-western portion of Yorkshire so picturesque. As the name implies, the chief locality in which it is made is Wensleydale, and here the cheese has been made for centuries. This dale is not only famed for its cheese, but also for its variety of sheep, the so-called "blue-faced Leicester" or Wensleydale.
A study of this method of cheese-making shows us that the fine pastures of the Yorkshire dales, chiefly on soils derived from limestone rocks, are especially adapted for producing a first-class cheese-making milk. Apart from this nothing special is needed in the way of food for the cow producing the milk used in the making of this cheese; also no special dairy accommodation is required, and no special utensils are employed. In the old-fashioned method, a large brass or copper pan, called a "cheese-kettle," was used in place of a cheese-vat, but the use of this is fast dying out.
The cheeses are made of two shapes, "flat" and "Stilton" shape. The former of these are suitable for making during spring and autumn, and also when the cheeses are intended for immediate consumption. When the cheeses are made of the "Stilton" shape, they are supposed to develop a greenish-blue mould just as a real Stilton, but with the flats this is not looked for. The Stilton-shaped Wensleydales are therefore classed as British blue mould cheeses. The period of ripening of Wensleydales varies according to the shape adopted, but this is only so owing to the differences in the curds used in making the respective shapes. The "flats" take only a short time to ripen, the "Stiltons" a longer time. Although we speak of "Stilton-shaped" Wensleydales it is rare to find them exactly resembling a Stilton in shape, as the cheese usually becomes much distorted after its removal from the hoop. Indeed, some makers consider that irregularity in shape is a sign of good quality. Nor is this without reason, for, in order to acquire the distinctive characters of a Wensleydale, the curd must be hooped when it is in a moist condition, and only a small amount of pressure must be applied to the cheese; and these two factors render a cheese liable to unshapeliness.
A good Stilton-shaped Wensleydale possesses the following characteristics — A smooth surface, frequently a distorted shape, a soft, yielding texture similar to a Stilton but tougher, a blue mould evenly distributed throughout the body of the cheese, and not running in veins as in the real Stilton, and a mellow, creamy, mouldy flavour.
In the past there was no fixed method of making the cheese, but now teaching is aiding to bring about a definite system, and also it is raising the average in regard to the quality of the cheeses produced. Some good cheeses were formerly made, but there were also many bad ones, and the average was decidedly lower than that of the present time.
The method of manufacture about to be detailed is the modern method, and although the utensils used are not such as most of the dalesmen possess, yet they would undoubtedly be able to get a greater uniformity in their produce by using such. More especially would this desirable result be brought about if they gave attention to the quantity of rennet recommended; to the temperature of coagulation, of scalding, of the curd on salting, of the curd on hooping, &c.; to the amount of acid; and finally to the method of salting. The adoption of such particulars avoids the haphazard results of the old style of making.
PREPARATORY TREATMENT OF THE MILK. — Allow the evening's milk to run into the cheese-vat, and cool it down to 60°. Stir the milk occasionally during the evening, which will help it to cool, and will also prevent the cream from rising. In the morning skim the cream off the evening's milk, and heat it to 90° F. Then pour the morning's milk, and the heated cream along with it, into the vat amongst the evening's milk, and raise the temperature of the mixed milks to 86°-88° F.
This method of treating the milk is applicable to cases where making is followed once a day, and only in very hot weather need the cheese be oftener made. If an excessive amount of acidity develops in the milk, the cheese will be dry and hard, and will never possess the true qualities of a Wensleydale.
RENNETING. — Given that the temperature of the milk is as stated, and that the milk itself is perfectly sweet, the rennet may be added. One drachm of rennet extract to 40 lbs. of milk will produce a firm coagulation in about an hour, and therefore is the right quantity to add. After the addition of the rennet stir the mixture for five minutes. When the curd is sufficiently firm break it into cubes of about half-an-inch square, using American knives for the purpose. This breaking or cutting takes about five minutes, and after it is performed the curd is allowed to settle for five minutes. After settling, the curd is stirred for about twenty minutes with a shovel-breaker, rake, or hand. The latter of these is preferred when a small quantity of milk is being handled. After the stirring allow the curd to settle for ten minutes.
PARTIAL SCALDING. — Sufficient whey is now drawn off, so that when heated it will raise the temperature of the contents of the vat to what it was previous to renneting; the whey taken off should not be heated to more than 130° F. After adding the heated whey, stir constantly for about half-an-hour, and then allow the curd about twenty minutes to settle. It is not always necessary to even partially scald in the making of Stilton-shaped Wensleydales; indeed in summer-time it is only requisite when the weather is damp and cold, or whenever the curd seems as if it would be long in getting dry and firm. When "flats" are made scalding is always requisite.
In case of not scalding the curd, the stirring is longer continued, and the curd is given a longer time to settle. The whey is let off when the curd is in the right condition. This, however, is not easily described, and experience is the only guide. One sign of sufficient scalding is that you have 16 to 18 lbs. of curd from 12 gallons of milk. If more the curd is too moist, if less it is too dry. The whey is usually drawn off one and a half to two hours from the time of cutting the curd.
DRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT OF ACIDITY. — After drawing off the whey, take the curd out of the vat, and place it in a straining-cloth. Put it on a draining-rack, open it out after the first half-hour, and cut it into pieces; continue to do this every hour until the curd is ready to grind. A board is also placed on the curd whilst on the draining-rack, and 7 to 28 lbs. weight is placed upon the board. The amount of pressure is regulated according to the weather, and the drainage of the whey. When the weather is cold, and the drainage is slow, apply more pressure to the curd, and vice versa. The curd when ready to grind, should be decidedly sour, fairly dry and flaky, but not hard. It should be weighed before grinding.
SALTING. — The ground curd is salted at the rate of 1 oz. of salt to 4 lbs. of curd. The curd preparatory to salting is either ground in a mill or broken by hand, but in either case it must not be made too fine. The effect of fine grinding is a tight cheese in which no mould will develop. The time elapsing between adding the rennet and salting the curd is from six to eight hours. In the old system of making, the direct application of salt to the curd was only practised with large cheeses, the rule being to place the pressed cheeses in a strong brine, and leave them there for three or four days. The objections to this method are — (1) The uncertainty as to the amount of brine the cheese actually absorbs, as owing to differences in the amount of acidity present in the curd, the cheeses rarely absorb similar quantities, and as a consequence there is great variation in the cheeses produced. (2) The brine frequently does not penetrate to the centre of the cheese, and as a consequence a portion of it remains unsalted. (3) Placing cheeses in a brine cools them down to a very low temperature, and this interferes with the curing.
When direct salting of the curd is practised, it is necessary to allow a greater development of acidity than when brining is practised. The necessity for this arises from the rapid check of acid development when hand salting is followed, and the slow check of it when brining is followed.
HOOPING. — After grinding and salting the -curd, put it into perforated tin hoops or moulds, without bottoms or with movable ones only. Place the hoop on a board and cloth, and loosely fill in the curd. The curd required to fill a standard-sized Wensleydale hoop is that which can be obtained from 14 gallons of milk. The temperature of the curd on hooping should be 64° to 65°. This comparatively low temperature is required in order to encourage mould development. Usually the cheese is put into the hoop without a cheese-cloth, but if the weather is hot it is better to use one. The cheese after being hooped is placed on a slab in the cheese-making room. Two hours after filling, the hoop and cheese should be turned and the cheese put into a dry cheese-cloth. Before leaving for the night a 4-lb. weight and a board are usually placed on the top of the cheese. When the cheese is left all night without pressure, or only with such as indicated, the temperature of the room in which it is placed should not be less than 60°.
PRESSING. — Next morning turn the cheese, put it into a dry cloth, place it in a press, and apply 1 1/2 cwt. pressure for about five hours. Then remove it from the press, and turn it into a smooth cloth; replace it in the press, and apply 3 to 5 cwt. pressure until night. Next morning take it out of the press, sew on a bandage, and remove the cheese to a cool, moist room, placing it on a stone shelf. Let the cheese remain here for seven to nine days, turning it daily.
CURING. — Take the cheese to the drying- or curing-room, kept at a temperature of about 60° F. Turn the cheese daily, and if the weather is hot turn it twice a day. During the first few days it is necessary to skewer the cheese to prevent excessive heating. After six weeks in the curing-room, the cheese should be unclothed, and if the blue mould is not developing, the cheeses must be skewered. The skewering must be done from the ends, and after the operation care must be taken to cover up the entrance to the skewer-holes, to prevent the passing in of flies, &c.
The Stilton-shaped Wensleydales are ripe in four to six months; the flats are ripe in about two months. In the making of flats the curd is usually scalded, and is made much drier than if for Stiltons. The curd for Stilton shapes should be moist, slightly acid, and rather coarse at the time of hooping, whereas that for "flats" should be drier, more acid, and finer.
Properly made Wensleydales are prime cheeses, and there seems to be quite a possibility of their supplanting a deal of Stiltons within the next few years. This is not only on account of their possessing all the good qualities of a genuine Stilton, but also on account of the greater yield of cheese from a given amount of milk by the Wensleydale process, as compared with the real Stilton process. Indeed up to within the last few years Wensleydale cheeses were little known outside the locality of their making, but now that they are becoming of much wider repute, the demand for them is steadily increasing.