Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Tell us a bit about you:
I went to agricultural college to learn more about general agriculture and after I finished, I went to New Zealand and travelled around and worked in several places – nothing to do with cheese; I was crushing garlic in the North of the South Island and was there for a couple of weeks at the end of the season, when I noticed that they ripped out a load of cherry trees to plant more garlic.
As you grow up and get older, you start to questions things, like where does food come from. With my work away and the things I saw, the farms I worked on, coupled with my background, I started to gain a real appreciation of my roots. My Gran would always tell me about how they delivered milk with a horse and cart, and wonderful stories about the horse they had that carried on, making its own whilst my Gran was chatting to everyone. I felt then that we are starting to lose the connection between the customer and where food comes from – I thought: we don’t have that any more, the milk gets picked up by a big tanker, it goes off, we get a monthly cheque and that is the end of it.
I thought, surely we could do something more with the milk to reflect the effort that goes into producing it. I looked at making yoghurt, ice cream, butter and cheese. Initially I thought of ice cream but decided against it, as the only different things you can do with ice cream is to add different flavours, but with cheese, I realised you could make all sorts of different cheeses.
The more I looked into cheese, the more I got of a sense of place and all the different styles of cheese that reflect the provenance of the milk. Locally, other than Appleby’s, we don’t really have any small-scale artisan cheeses.
I went down to our local deli in Newport (now a dentist) and spoke to them to see if they would be interested in a local cheese. They said we have so many local people coming in to ask for something local, so I thought there could be a gap in the market.
I have not done anything with business and marketing, all I learned at college was animal husbandry and looking after animals. I set about making cheese in my Gran’s jam kettle on the stove, wrapped it in cloth and tried to forget about it. One day we sat down at breakfast and broke a cheese open, tasted it and thought this is not too bad.
I enrolled on the Reaseheath course with Chris Ashby and Val Bines and did a basic three-day cheese making course, but at the end of it, I did not know where to go; I learned the basics but did not know how to apply it. At this point, I met Ralph, a senior food lecturer at Harper Adams who helped us with recipe development, setting up and my HACCP. Choosing a style of cheese to make was a defining point. We chose to follow a Manchego recipe but made with cow’s milk because there were not any European style cheese made in the UK at that time – this was 14 years ago. So, the Manchego style of cheese turned into Wrekin white. We initially had huge problems with our EHO and if it were not for Ralph’s help, we would not be making cheese today. Initially our EHO said we could not make cheese with raw milk, but Ralph and I argued against this, using our knowledge and in particular, Ralph’s knowledge. In the end, our EHO said that after having to test every batch we made, they did not have any reason not to let us to do it and in the end, turned out to be supportive of us and could see that we cared about the cheese we made and now we get on fine.
If I were not cheese making, I have no idea what I would be doing. Being a cheese maker has just formulated the rest of my life. We have since moved on from the farm where I grew up, my parents still have the farm, but it is a very small farm and I could not do anything else there. It was a tough decision; my wife and I decided that cheese is our baby and we have ever since focussed on that and put everything into cheese making.
I love the outdoors, I love cheese and what I do and all the things connected with it. Looking out of the window right now, I can see sheep and watching them is a pleasure. I have 2 young children, nature, farming, cheese making, seems to envelop everything. If I do ever get a chance, I like to go out on my bike. I used to do a lot of mountain biking. I like to connect with my surroundings, it links you back to food. You hear more about people who go foraging these days, used to be called scrumping in my time, but I enjoy being more aware of what is around me and try to keep my eyes open around. I am a big fan of food and drink; I enjoy doing that simple things and do all the cooking at home and appreciate good food and eating, I find this relaxing.
What do you make and why?
We started with our Wrekin White. 14 years ago, we were featured on Midlands Today to talk about our cheeses and was asked if there is another cheese I would like to make. Being put on the spot, I mentioned the possibility of making a blue version, the next thing I know, on the front page of the Shropshire Star, it announced that Mr Moyden was going to make a blue!
It took about 4 years to develop the recipe and get it right. We used to do a little blue cheese prayer each time to make sure it was going to blue.
The cheeses have evolved over time from what people have asked us for. I think part of the enjoyment of doing what we do is learning and appreciating how different styles of cheese are made as it is so varied. Just learning how these are developed and what we can do to make something that tastes really nice, and different, is exciting.
Ironbridge came about when we were asked to do a smaller
version of the Wrekin Blue to sell at Christmas time. They ended up being about 600g which is a bit too big to sell as an individual cheese. They said, could you make them small and it got to the stage when they were only about 200g and we could not pierce them to get the blue in but people liked that they were soft, so we let the blue ripen on the cheese on the outside. In doing so, we got some real inconsistencies in the final cheese: sometimes they would ripen too fast, other times, they would hardly ripen at all and there not a lot of blue on the outside, but we found a solution.
Recently, linking in with the Ironbridge historical connection, we found a guy who makes charcoal near us, we can crush it to ash and dust the cheese with the ash and this now results in a more evenly ripened cheese, resulting in a nice breakdown on the outside and creates a lovely flavour – this just happened in last couple of months. I am always looking to ways of developing and how to improve things.
Newport & Smoked Newport: this was born out of a style of cheese that I like personally and now it is a family favourite and both of our kids ask for this. It is an easy-going, every day cheese, but then we also smoke some: the Newport 1665 which is named after the great fire of Newport, not such a good year for Newport but a good year for smoked cheese. We did not initially want to smoke any cheese, but we have a smoke house not too far from us and they convinced us to try some. It really lifts the flavour, it is oak smoked and changes it totally, it gets a lot more buttery and you have the oakiness going on too. It was awarded a gold at Nantwich ICA and we are very chuffed with that.
Caer Caradoc: this came about by mistake, we were making our Wrekin White and the pump broke on the cheese vat
so we could not scald the curd. As a wedding present we were given a cheese making book and in the book, there was a recipe for a Caerphilly style, which was perfect as the cheese did not need to be scalded. I gave it to friends and family at Christmas and they liked it. This got a bronze at the British Cheese Awards, so we carried on making it. It has a very subtle flavour, and I would not really call it a Caerphilly now, we have adapted the recipe and think those delicate flavours that govern are an essence of the milk, and ties in with the provenance we are trying to get across.
Shrewsbury Fretta is our newest cheese, which is like a take on a Feta. Fretta means quick in Italian. It is just a few days old. We were asked by several chefs if we could do a fresh curd to use in salads as they struggled to get hold of any, so we started making this. We collaborated with a rape seed producer so we marinade some in rape seed oil. We have a lavender oil, herb oil and smoked oil and it turns out some really nice cheeses for cooking with.
Tell us about your dairy: where is it, what do you have in it, favourite bits of kit, things you would like to change (if anything) or something that would make your life better/easier
Starter and rennet are added
We have two cheese vats, I have a lovely circular Dutch vat and I love making cheese in that vat and then we have the more typical rectangular vat. We can make around 1,600 litres between the two vats each time we make and it is all matured here in the maturing rooms. For me, the round vat is a lovely piece of kit, it is lovely to work with and I could quite happily make cheese in that every day, it is my favourite bit of kit.
In addition to the two vats, we have a pneumatic press, we have just ordered a new pasteuriser, we have a cold room, maturing room and packing room. Our dairy is quite small about 2,000 sq. ft. It has a corridor that goes down one-third of it that splits off, with a dry store and a packing room and on the other side there is the dairy and the maturing rooms. If I did it again I would put the entrance of the maturing rooms at the back so that entry can be gained without going through the dairy. We are quite a small facility but big enough for what we need and we have the capacity to increase if we need it.
We are near Market Drayton and we source some milk from our neighbouring herd and recently managed to source some milk from Appleby’s which is very good of them, and bring it back to the creamery.
We visited Westcombe Dairy at the SCA meeting this year and along with everyone else, we got a lot of robot envy for
Curd goes into moulds
their cheese turning robots. They are producing a lot more cheese than us and have a fantastic facility there; watching the robot turn the cheese was quite something. You could sit there and watch it work all day and they also had a fantastic cave environment for the cheese to mature in, was really interesting, and something I would like to look at in the future, probably not with a robot, but that maturing environment would really help us being able to mature the cheeses how we want them to be in the future.
It comes back to connecting to people, I think it is key, talking to people, there are a certain number of people who do want to know where their food comes from and are happy to pay a premium for the style of cheeses that we make.
How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheesemaker?
The dairy industry has changed massively. When I think back to when I started making cheese, it was not too long after the disbanding of the Milk Marketing Board. It was a relatively open playing field to sell milk and get the best price from the milk buyer. That has changed, there are fewer buyers around and Mueller seem to own everything now.
A lot of the smaller farms, even in the last 5 years have gone by the way, especially the smaller family farms, leaving very big, though very efficient farms. The animals are very well looked after, it is now a much larger scale enterprise and I don’t know of anywhere that has 20-30 cows, as this is no longer viable. Because there are so many very large herds around, this is why you don’t see so many milk tankers around. I notice the reduction in small herds when I see that there doesn’t seem to be so many cows out grazing, which for us in quite a rural area, has been pretty noticeable.
Where larger dairy herds make more economic sense, the remaining smaller family farms have had to diversify. Where we are based, there was a small dairy farm, but they now do caravans and dry storage for people, there are also hair dressers and a blacksmith on site, so it has completely changed from what they used to do 15-20 years ago – it is a sign of the times.
For anyone going into making cheese, I think it was Anthony Bourdain who said this, you have to be a hopeless romantic. For anyone involved in cheese, you have to have that will, and the attention to detail really is everything. Someone once said to me that you will never produce amazing cheese if you have children, as all your time will be spent with your children rather than with your cheese. That is where you get those fine details of high quality cheese and I think they are probably quite right; it takes up so much time, it is not just the making of the cheese, a lot of the time is spent cleaning and maturing and making sure that it is packaged right, there is so much to it and I did not appreciate that when I first went into cheese making.
I was aware that it was made and matured, that appreciation for time has got to come into it, these things take a lot of time not only to get right, but to create an interesting and flavourful cheese. Be aware that it is not going to happen overnight. We are 14 years on and some days it still feels like my first day. It is good to keep learning and that is the rewarding part and when you do produce that great cheese, that sense of satisfaction outweighs everything else.
If you can go and work with or for another cheese maker, it would be a good start. If I go back to when I first started, I did not really learn from anyone, it was just what I picked up in books, I would try and get some experience working for some cheese makers, just to gain hands on experience and an insight into the amount of time and effort getting that milk in and following it all the way through to finally selling it in the shop, so get some experience.
It is always a challenge being on a small-scale. When I first started, I was using a 50 litre cheese vat which was very small, and made only 5kgs at a time, so I had to do double shifts. Initially, demand outweighed supply, I think I said I was not ready to sell the cheese, but with the benefit of hindsight, I think I should have pushed on a bit more and been a bit more confident. Today’s challenges include meeting with wholesalers. The market has changed as there are more cheeses out there and maybe the market place has changed a lot for what we are doing. When you look at continental cheeses, in France, there are examples of farmers who make Comte and send it out to mature to affineurs, resulting in the farmers and cheese makers working together with the affineurs. Maybe this is something the British should look at doing working together.
Where can we find your cheese?
We sell to farm shops, delis, independents, there is a link on our website here. We like to deal direct with people, this means that we can talk directly with our customers. We are currently trying to set up a better online sales facility, to allow customers to shop online too.
Favourite cheese making music?
I have quite eclectic taste in music, I like all sorts of stuff. My mum helps out quite a lot but she does not like a lot of the music I listen to, so we have to balance that out. I also like listening to podcasts, I really like the Do lectures which has lots of inspiring podcasts, one of their founding guys, Mark Shaler, started a series called Doing Things Better and Doing Better Things which is a chat with somebody about doing something interesting, in general terms, how things turned around, how they started in business.
Another pod cast I like The Cellar Man Sam, he used to be a cheesemonger, he talks to cheese makers and cheesemongers and he has started to do some podcasts for the Guild of Fine Foods. If my mum was not around, I am a fan of the Flaming Lips, Johnny Cash, a lot of new music, quite modern stuff. I listen to Annie Mac, she has lot of new music on Radio 1.
Name: Martin Moyden, Mr Moyden’s Handmade Cheese
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