Chef finds new career in Cheese Making
Dean has always chased extreme flavours; the punchy Stiltons and rich Brie de Meaux always his go-to cheeses. But recently, he is finding his palate is favouring the subtler flavours, such as those of an Old Roan Wensleydale or Pecorino Dolce. It was the Old Roan that Dean discovered on his recent Academy of Cheese Level One course with Academy Training Partner, Patrick McGuigan.
The training course was funded by the Chiswick Cheese Market Grant, which was set up through a collaboration with the Academy of Cheese and Chiswick Cheese Market. Dean won the grant as a new cheesemaker and, at the time of writing, is just a couple of weeks away from taking over the lease and becoming Head Cheesemaker at Monkland Cheese Dairy.
Not an obvious career choice, as up until March this year, he’d never made cheese in his life! A chef by trade, Dean’s previous role at a café/deli was evolving away from the creativeness of cooking, into the administrative side of management. Looking for a new challenge that would bring him back to a hands-on, production side of food, he replied to an advert, placed by Monkland’s incumbent owners, Mark and Karen Hindle.
A Great Cheese to Cook With
Dean’s not, however, entering his new venture completely blind. He may have a lot to learn about cheese making, but his prior knowledge of Monkland cheeses will put him in good stead. Having been a chef in Herefordshire for the past 20 years, Dean was aware and had used the cheeses in his recipes. He also had their Little Hereford at his wedding. Knowing the brand and their delicious cheese, recognising the similarities between cooking and cheesemaking, and acknowledging the importance of preserving local craft traditions, he was delighted when Mark and Karen accepted his application to take over the lease of the dairy.
The dairy itself is located behind an on-site cheese shop and café, which Karen and Mark designed to sit, synergistically side-by-side with the Dairy. They will continue to run this side of the business.
Cheese making and Affinage: A Waiting Game
Having no previous cheese making experience, Dean is very eager to learn. He has spent the past few weeks shadowing Mark at the Dairy, learning how to make the cheeses and found it very satisfying to see the Little Herefordshires he’d made going into the press and the Monklands being brined.
In contrast to his cheffing days, where the fruits of his labours were immediately appreciated, it will take 5-6 weeks to see if his Monklands are up to Mark and Karen’s standard, whilst his Little Herefords are aged for 5-6 months! That’s going to require a lot of patience!
New Challenge, Same Delicious Cheese
Monkland has been making cheese since 1995 and, before winding down the cheesemaking, had a range of seven cheeses.
Their popular Little Hereford (pictured right) was based on a recipe found by Karen, written in 1918 by Ellen Yeld, who was the “Chief Dairy Instructress” for the county of Herefordshire.
This, along with Karen and Mark’s infectious enthusiasm and knowledge, is the reason that Dean is so passionate about keeping these traditional cheese recipes that are in danger of disappearing forever.He will be, initially, making the same cheeses that Monkland have always made and feels proud to have stewardship over keeping these well-loved recipes alive.
As well as the same recipes, Dean will continue with the same milk source, which comes from two local farms. One of whom has a milk vending machine business, “Whole Moo World”, which have also approached Dean to sell his cheeses from. He plans to sell through existing distribution channels: The Mousetrap, a chain of independent stockists around the region, have agreed to continue stocking the cheeses, whilst Dean is also currently developing an online website.
Dean took on the three-year lease with a clear plan: The first year he knows will be spent making mistakes and learning from them to get the product right. Acknowledging the constraints of a small dairy, he hopes to see sales grow in the second and third year, which will go towards expansion into bigger premises.
Dean Signs Up for New Cheesemaking Course
Whatever cheese Dean prefers these days, he admits that he has always loved cheese, just never appreciated the nuances. It was the Academy’s Level One course that opened his eyes to this and Dean is willing to soak up every bit of learning offered to him through his grant. The Level Two Member Certification with hands-on Cheesemaking course will be of particular value to Dean’s level of experience.
And it is not just the educational side of the grant from which he will benefit: he appreciates the value that has already enabled him to hook-up with industry names, such as Patrick McGuigan and Charlie Westhead from Neal’s Yard Creamery. Dean acknowledges the industry’s well-reputed comradery and regards these connections as opportunities to get these long-loved traditional cheeses back on the shelf again.
Rachel Holding | Academy of Cheese Writer
Rachel loves a good cheese and wine session. Her love of all cheeses, artisanal or otherwise, has grown from her early years of working on the cheese counter at Fortnum & Mason. She has a personal mission to taste as many cheeses as possible and to encourage this passion in others.