We love our local producers, suppliers and Good Food Workshop instructors here at Clavelshay Barn. We love spending time with these amazing people who do what they love, and their passion for good food and crafting a more sustainable and tasty world is constant source of inspiration for us. We also think most of them have some pretty interesting stories too, so we thought we would share some of our favorites here in an ongoing series.
Starting with our lovely Cheese Making Workshop instructor Sarah Styles-Power from The Shebbear Cheese Company. Sarah runs her little local cheese business with her husband Chris from their home in Devon and makes moreish hand-made cheeses to traditional recipes with quirky names like Old Sheb, Forda, Bramley Barton and Forda Blue which she now sells at local farmers markets.
This is the story of how Sarah became a cheese maker...
How I Started Cheese Making
Four years ago we had a swarm of bees in the wall of a barn. We phoned the local bee keepers association and they sent a couple of their members out to collect the bees. This involved 3 visits and whilst chatting to one of them I discovered that she had a pony and trap – something I was interested in as I had a horse broken to drive but had never been able to afford lessons or a harness and cart! She offered to take me out in hers and it was whilst we were driving around the countryside that we discovered both of us had always wanted to make cheese.
She had bought some second hand molds and a book and I had a book!
The plan was to buy milk from her neighbour, a dairy farmer and I was to order cultures and rennet. Unfortunately her neighbour wouldn’t sell his milk so we had to use supermarket milk.
There was no plan on the day we just opened the book and decided to make a Derby cheese!
Her largest saucepan wasn’t big enough so we ended up with a 15L plastic bucket that had stored her bee sugar! This didn’t fit properly into the water filled roasting tin but somehow we ended up with curds and whey. We used one of the molds she had bought and then set about pressing it in my cider press using a saucer and wood as a form for the top of the mold.
We then pressed it to death. Surprisingly we ended up with an edible cheese.
Using the left over whey we made ricotta and then lastly made a soft cheese which had to be left for 24 hours to rennet in a warm place. Despite being left on the side of her aga for some hours before her husband came home and pointed out how hot it was, we ended up with a soft cheese that tasted ok.
A few weeks later we had another cheesemaking day and made a cheddar, ricotta and soft cheese.
By this time, I was hooked and decided to buy some cheesemaking supplies and make some cheese at home. The beekeeper was busy studying for exams and didn’t want to come over to mine to make cheese so I gradually worked my way through the cheeses in the book.
Friends started to ask me to make cheese as presents for them and then I attended a Farmers Market in the village and actually sold cheese to customers!
This all happened over 12 months and I was still using supermarket milk which was proving quite expensive. I then found a local farmer who made ice cream with his milk and was prepared (and allowed by DEFRA) to sell milk to me. So for the last 3 years I have been making cheese with this milk and gradually increasing output, and have started selling my cheese at Farmers Markets and Food Fairs.
I find cheesemaking very therapeutic and despite being time-consuming I’ve never got fed up with it, in fact I love being a cheese maker and can’t imagine doing anything else now. I just wish I’d discovered this magical process years ago. I’ve got a lot to thank the bees for!
Sarah will be showing us how to make some of her delicious cheeses at our Cheese Making Workshop on Saturday 23rd February, so if you love cheese, then come and learn how to make it! You can find out more about the workshop here and call Sue to book your spot on 01278 662629.