Cheesemaking wheels are turning
JILL GALLOWAYLEILANI HATCH/FAIRFAX NZCURDS AWEIGH: Cheesemaker Adrian Walcroft cuts curds in the pot. He is making some of his award-winning Pohangina Blue.
Adrian Walcroft lives near Pohangina village and makes cheese in his kitchen – not for sale at this stage, but for family and friends.
He has just won two coveted awards, Cuisine Champions of Cheese, Champion Home Crafted Cheese, for his Pohangina Blue, and the Champion Home Crafted Cheesemaker Award.
Walcroft was thrilled to win both awards, and the only gold medal awarded in the home crafted category, for his Pohangina Blue. He entered last year, with a camembert, and won a silver award.
He is a home cheesemaker and started with a recipe which he has changed slightly over the years.
“But the two things that are vital, are the temperature all the way through, and hygiene.”
The scientist in him makes sure they are both right.
Walcroft, until six months ago, was employed as a scientist at Landcare Research. He did his doctorate 15 years ago, in plant science, but got hooked on cheesemaking after he went to a one-day cheesemaking workshop run by Katherine Mowbray.
He had ideas back then of setting up commercially, but opted for a science career instead so cheesemaking has taken a back seat until recently.
We try the award-winning Pohangina Blue. There is some left over. Pity you can’t smell it. It has a great aroma. It’s a creamy blue cheese, that is three and a half months old and delicious.
“A semi-soft cheese. It was just over three months old when I sent it up chilled on Friday, and it was judged in the Cuisine Awards on Sunday.”
Walcroft sources the milk locally, and pasteurises it himself.
He buys the cheese cultures from a Palmerston North home brew shop and though they are more expensive, the small sachets are easy to use and are guaranteed to be sterile.
He and his wife have a 12-hectare farm near the Pohangina village. They bought the place five years ago, and Walcroft says they rear calves for dairy beef.
“Last spring we reared 200 and we bought 12 in-milk dairy cows. We milked them (through the old dairy shed on the property) and fed the milk, with an additive of milk powder to the calves.”
It is better for the calves, he says, and they do well on cows’ milk. They also eat meal, which helps develop the rumen.
Walcroft has quit his job, saying raising calves part-time while he had a job was tough.
All the more reason to get into cheesemaking. Within 12 months, the Walcrofts plan to go commercial. For that they’ll need a cheese building and better storage. All that is in hand, and they are designing it now.
“Many years ago, I visited the Clandeboye cheese factory. It was not so interesting to me, because it was cheesemaking on a grand scale and highly automated.”
Walcroft is an artisan cheesemaker, with the curd cutting, pressing and storage that is part of it.
“What I’ve found is tremendous support from other small cheesemakers. Even though we might be seen as competitors, the eight or so I have visited have been really helpful. It is a close-knit community.”
So, what is it about cheesemaking Walcroft is hooked on?
“I love the process, I like understanding the science of what is going on. And I like the diversity of the product. You start with milk and you can make such a range of cheeses.”
They will probably continue to buy in cows’ milk. “Rather than milk our own cows. But it is not so easy to get sheep and goats’ milk, and we may run our own so we can diversify our products.”
Walcroft is a bit of a francophile. He lived in central France, in Clermont-Ferrand for a year.
“It opened our eyes to the hugeness of the market for cheese over there. And they have a culture of eating interesting cheese. Our cheeses are of a high quality, but the variety is still quite limited.”
– © Fairfax NZ News