Sparkenhoe Cheese Dairy
We first looked into making cheese when we decided we needed to add value to the farm to enable us to keep the dairy heard, as selling liquid milk was making next to no profit. We discovered that Red Leicester cheese had been made on the farm from1745 until1875 but dismissed to idea of making it as it had a bad reputation of being boring with a rubbery texture. All that remained at the time was factory-made cheeses that bore little resemblance to the great farmhouse cheeses of the past. In fact, traditional Red Leicester cheese had died out in England in the early 1950s.
That all changed after a night in the pub when David was with one of his friends who was reminiscing over how Red Leicester used to be when he was a child. He remembered collecting the cheese from the local farm and sitting on top of the 20kg cheeses in the back of the butcher's van. But with no farmhouse Red Leicester being made in the county for 50 years it was a distant memory.
In the end, it was our desire to re-create the original great Red Leicester what was once treasured by many. So, in 2005, armed with an old recipe and having completed a cheese-making course, we set about reviving Red Leicester, using traditional methods and raw milk from are own herd.
When Will returned to the farm after finished his degree at Harper Adams in 2017, we decided to diversify further and chose a classic British ‘rinded’ blue, akin to the famous blue cheeses made in the region.
How it's made
Sparkenhoe Red Leicester and Vintage Red Leicester
The cheese making process starts with the raw unpasteurised milk being pumped straight from the milking parlour directly into the cheese room at 5am, using the freshest possible milk straight from the cow! We first add the animal rennet, this sets the curd. Then the annatto is poured in to the milk to give the cheese its rich orange colour – annatto is a natural product that comes from the seeds of the Achiote trees.
The curds and whey are gently scalded and separated, then cut into blocks, these are turned by hand, put through the mill, and then salted. These curds are then put into moulds where they will be pressed and turned for 24 hours. Once out of the moulds the team will bind the wheels with cloth and lard and then take them to the cheese store where they will be matured for 6 - 8 months if traditional and 12 - 14 months if vintage at approximately 11 degrees. This traditional process of cloth-binding and larding the cheese allows the red Leicester to form a natural rind; which helps contribute to the flavour and complexity and allows the cheese to breathe.
Sparkenhoe and Shropshire Blue
This is a traditional blue Leicestershire cheese made with the farm’s unpasteurised milk and takes two days to make.
On day 1 at 5am the milk is pumped underground, from the parlor into the blue make room, we first bring the milk down to the correct temperature and add animal rennet (animal rennet is a tradition product used to set the curds) and mould into the vat. When the curds have reached their optimum set (soft, but not too soft!) they are then cut. Over a period of two hours the curds separate from the whey, most of the whey is then drained and the leftover curd is hand ladles into the cooling table. The curd is then cut into 5 inch blocks and left to sit in the remaining whey until 6pm when the whey is released.
On day 2 at 6am the cheese blocks are turned, then 45 minuets later are milled and salt is added. The salted curds are placed into hoops to drain and form the traditional blue cheese shape. The cheese will stay in these molds for a week, being turned daily. After a week the cheese is then slipped out of the molds and rubbed up, rubbing up seals the outer layer and helps avoid over blueing. Finally after much care and attention the cheese is pierced, allowing blue mould veins to form, this happens at 4 and 6 weeks. The maturation process takes between 4 and 6 months, however ever batch of cheese takes a slightly different amount of time to develop a creamy texture and a lovely blue vein.
The Sparkenhoe Shropshire Blue is made in exactly the same way as the Sparkenhoe blue, however at the start of the make process annatto is added, giving the cheese its rich orange colour.
Bosworth Field is made with the raw milk from the dairy cows and is made in a small vat. The milk is heated gently and the curds are cut by hand and allowed to pitch for an hour, the curds are then placed in 5kg moulds and pressed gently over night and the following day placed in a brine bath. The cheese is then ripened for 2-3 months when the rind forms, sometimes taking on a gorgeous wrinkly appearance.