So for the first time on my journey I spent the day working DiBruno hours. I met with Jason just before 7am and we were off to Somerset to visit the producers of Keen’s and Montgomery’s Cheddar. For the first time, I realized just how vast London is. It literally took us an hour to get out of the city, and that was not due to traffic…it is just that big. The hour and a half beyond the city was highlighted by Stonehenge, which appeared suddenly as we drove over the top of a hill. It was no more than 80 yards from the highway, and as miraculous as I had hoped.
But I digress (this is a cheese blog after all). Our timing could not have been better, as we were able to witness all of the procedures involved in making cheddar. At Keen’s farm, the whey and curd had seperated as we arrived and was being cut into small pieces as we arrived. The machinery involved is remarkable. The town in which the farm is located is very quaint, with more dirt roads than paved ones. The last thing I expected was two farmhouses stocked full of heavy mechanics. But, of course, They would not be able to make 22 wheels a day if they cut all of the curd down with a wire or knife. Instead, the vat, which was rectangular and approximately 5′ x 20′ rested beneath two rotating paddles attached with blades that smoothly cut through the curd like butter. We had to leave before they drained the whey, but I was able to see the application of lard and cloth, and I stopped briefly in the aging room, which held approximately 5-6 thousand wheels!
We then progressed to Montgomery’s farm, where the middle step had just begun. After the whey had been drained, two curd-handlers spent approximately half an hour flipping and compressing the curds. It was explained to me that this helped bind the protiens, which in turn helps the cheese stay in one piece as it ages. James Montgomery then led me into the aging rooms, which did not have quite as much in store as Keens. He insisted that was because he sells more, a statement I could never disagree with. James showed me some inventions/improvements to his equipment that he thinks will help make his cheese even better. For me, it is hard to imagine Montgomery’s Cheddar getting any better, but it is easy to see how, in his constant desire for improvement, the quality as not declined at all in the last ten years. I promised not to disclose any of his ideas online, as competitors might be able to see it, but come into the shop on 9th Street and I am free to tell you anything you want to know.