After making cheese at home, cheese as delightfully simple as cream cheese and as entertaining as mozzarella, I was thrilled to spend a day studying how they make cheese on the farm. Another soft cheese, the exquisitely squeaky halloumi. Follow me around Old Plawhatch Farm‘s dairy to see how it’s done.
We begin, of course, with the milk. Old Plawhatch’s biodynamic farming practice is not only idyllic, deeply in tune with a beloved herd and the rolling Sussex hills they graze on, but it produces a living food, full of all the enzymes needed to digest cow’s milk. It’s clean, gorgeously rich stuff, and what’s more, we’re making cheese just at the time when the cows are eating that rapidly-growing springtime grass that seems to promote extraordinary healing. You’ll see the golden evidence in the pictures below.
Compared to my cheese-making, even seeing this much milk at one time is remarkable. The walls of the vat are filled with hot water to slowly warm the milk.
Meet Tali, who runs the dairy. She’s measuring and preparing rennet for when the milk reaches the correct temperature;
Then stirring the rennet well in, just as I do with mozzarella and other cheeses.
We clean the dairy extremely well in preparation, as we’ll need a sterile environment to culture the cheese.
Isn’t the old cheese press gorgeous?
Large, round cheese moulds are lined with a reusable cheese-cloth. A metal screen is also sterilised, ready for when it is needed to strain the whey from the curds.
Tali has a good trick for checking if the vegetable rennet has set the milk: press a finger into the surface, then lift up – the curds should separate cleanly.
We attach large metal blades to the mechanism to cut the curds. This is the same step in making mozzarella, when you slice the curds into cubes with a long knife.
Gorgeous, chartreuse whey releases from the curds.
While we’re between tasks the brine is made by measuring sea salt into a clean bin and filling it with water.
Now the screen is fitted to the vat. Here we go! The next part is a bit like a fire brigade, only with whey. Luckily we had a bit of an international brigade of volunteers.
Open the tap; catch the whey in a clean bucket;
And pour it into another vat. This one will heat the whey.
Scoop up the curds;
Into the waiting cheese moulds.
Fiddle with the cheese press, add weights, set it all up to press on the moulds.
Whey will drain across the table and into waiting buckets. A treat for the pigs! Let’s go have lunch at the farm shop while we wait for it to press. I love the food there, grown on Plawhatch, the sister farm Tablehurst, and all over England.
Pressed. Look at that.
That is a cheese!
For halloumi, there’s a few more steps. Having turned the cheeses out of their moulds, cut them up.
Cut, and cut.
Once it is cut you can see what an astonishing amount of cheese it is. Remember the hot whey?
Drop the cheese into the vat of hot whey. We leave it there for awhile;
Then lift the cheese out;
Rub it well with sea salt;
And send it off to chill.
Once it is chilled, drop the cheese into the waiting brine. The sea salt will preserve the halloumi well, for a soft cheese. Tali recommends soaking the halloumi in water for a bit to draw out some of the salt before using it.
Have you eaten halloumi? I adore it grilled, served with lots of vegetables. Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Old Plawhatch!