The Staffordshire Cheese is made from milk from cows kept on Staffordshire farms. It has a smooth, slightly crumbly texture which can be hard or semi-hard depending on the age of maturity a pale cream colour and is creamy, fresh and lactic in flavour, it has a fat content ranging from 33 – 38% with the fat in dry matter making up between 40-45%. The cheese is cylindrical in shape, weighs 8-10 kgs and is sold cloth-bound. Production of the cheese is limited to the County of Staffordshire, all the milk for the cheese comes from the County.
The county of Staffordshire has a warm, wet, westerly climate and a carboniferous limestone terrain, producing lush grazing pasture which produces the creamy milk that gives the cheese its character. The soil has a natural aptitude for producing a fine herbage of grass (neighbouring counties of Cheshire and Derbyshire have a higher rainfall and temperature in comparison to Staffordshire). The properties of this grass are essential to the nature of the Staffordshire cheese. All milk and cream used to make the Staffordshire cheese are produced from cows grazing on this pasture. In winter the cows are fed mainly on grass silage and maize silage which comes from Staffordshire soil, with a small amount of concentrates to boost protein in the diet.
Staffordshire is neighboured by Cheshire and Derbyshire. Cheshire has a higher rainfall and temperature in comparison to Staffordshire. The land area has a high rock salt and saline (salt solution) content which is a considerable difference in comparison to the carboniferous limestone terrain of Staffordshire. The main cheese of Cheshire County is the Cheshire Cheese which is highly acidic and a very crumbly product.
The other nearest county to Staffordshire is Derbyshire where Stilton and Derby Cheese are made, these cheeses are very different to the Staffordshire cheese with the penicillium Rocquforti of Stilton and the smooth textured Derby which is more like a softer textured form of Cheddar.
The Staffordshire Cheese differs from other varieties of cheese made in surrounding counties because of the distinctive nature of the cows diet, the mixture of starter cultures used and the size of the cloth bound cheese which creates a particular type of body and texture in the final product. The cheese is re-establishing its reputation with consumers and retailers. It is sold at farmers’ markets, farm shops, local delicatessens and by mail order.
The origins of the cheese can be linked back to the Cistercian monks who settled in Leek, Staffordshire in the 13th century. These Monks led a life of prayer, study and work. The monks set out to be self-sufficient and were agriculturalists, potters, bakers, brewers, cheese makers and printers. They brought their cheese making skills to the region with them. Staffordshire Cheese continued to be produced until the advent of the Second World War, when the central milk gathering policy by the Milk Marketing Board spelt the end of many English regional cheeses. This application therefore represents the revival (by an artisan cheese maker co-operating with local farmers) of this traditional cheese lost, as so many were, to wartime food supply policy. The revived cheese is establishing its reputation amongst retailers and consumers.
Method of production
Fresh raw milk from farms within the county of Staffordshire is held overnight at a chilled temperature of 0-5°C . On day two, Staffordshire cream (also sourced from farms within the county) is added to the milk and stirred in for 15 minutes. This milk/ cream mixture is pasteurised at 72-75.5°C for 15-20 seconds. The mixture is then pumped into a cheese vat and a temperature of 32.5- 35°C achieved. At 28°C 0.2-0.4% mixed starter cultures containing strains of lactococcus lactis subsp.cremoris, lactocuccus lactis subsp. Lactis and lactocuccus lactis subsp. Diocetylactis. are added to the milk for acid development and flavour.
After 60 to 75 minutes of ripening at 32.5°C, rennet is added at the temperature of 31-33°C. The rennet coagulation takes 45-50 minutes and is tested by hand before cutting.
Curd will then be firm with a clean break. After 35-45 minutes the curd is then cut the length of the vat and across the vat with a vertical knife, and then cut with a horizontal knife in the same manner. This takes 20 minutes.
The curds are then stirred at 30-32°C for 40 minutes. They are then settled and the whey is drawn through a sieve at the end of the vat for 35 minutes. At the completion of the whey-off, the acidity will be 0.29% lactic whey. The curds are then broken every 15 minutes over a period of 45 minutes. Acidity at first break is 0.39%, at second break 0.45% and at the final break 0.53% lactic acid.
The curds are then broken by stainless steel peg mill. 2.5% salt is added to the curds during milling. The salt is mixed in by turning the curds with a food-grade plastic shovel once and by hand three times. The cheese is only turned 4 times in total as any more would dry out the curds.
Then the salted cheese curds are hand filled to muslin cloth-lined stainless steel moulds. The cloths have sewn in circular bases, and the moulds are specially made for whey drainage and cheese shape. The cheeses are then pressed at 2lbs per square inch at 21-25°C overnight. After pressing, the cheese cloth smoothly covers the surface of the cheese. The cheeses are stored on shelves at 7-10°C, turned daily for one week and weekly thereafter. The mild cheese is ripe in 2-4 weeks, but can be matured for up to 12 months.
There are currently two producers of Staffordshire Cheese:
Bertelin Farmhouse Cheese
Ellenhall Grange Farm
01785 859331 / 07827 338521
Staffordshire Cheese Company
(The company also run the Leek Brewery)
Unit 12, Churnet Side
01538 361919 or 07971 808370