Thursday, April 03, 2014

On Location: Fighting Cheese Mites at Quickes Dairy

Quickes Dairy Sales Manager Tom Chatfield demos the
Mite Buster for us. Tom is just
about the nicest, most efficient
and one of the youngest sales managers in the business. I kept
wanting to feed him a cookie.
Ever since hearing stories from Wisconsin cheesemaker Bruce Workman about the fun of shrink wrapping random objects in a cheese cryovac machine, my husband has always dreamed of having his very own. Here's a typical conversation -- Me: what do we need a cryovac machine for? Husband: Who doesn't need a cryovac machine?

Well today, I've found a new random object to covet that would make anyone jealous: Mary Quicke's Amazing Mite Buster.

What is a Mite Buster, you ask? Well, for those of you not in the cheese mite know, it is a handy dandy plastic hut big enough to hold a pallet of 50-pound wheels of bandaged cheddar. The cheddar is sprayed with a wand of high pressured air, blowing off pesky cheese mites, which tend to populate, settle in and eat the mold on bandaged cheeeses. The super duper hut is hooked up to a vacuum contraption, which sucks up the mites and leads to their untimely death. It's genius. Sheer genius.

"Cheesemakers used to use a gas to get rid of the mites, but it was banned by the E.U. in 2009 because it was damaging the ozone layer," Quickes Dariy Sales Manager Tom Chatfield told us. "We scrambled for a new solution until Mary came up with the Mite Buster. She even sent the schematics to all of the UK bandaged cheddar makers, but no one else adopted it."

Why they didn't is a really good question, because after watching employees vacuuming bandaged cheddars for hours at other cheese "stores" - I finally figured out this is the English term for a cheese aging facility; what we call a store in the US is called a shop in the UK - I find it fairly sad that it took me four days to get this straight - the Mite Buster seems pretty freaking efficient. It's simply one example of the innovative Mary Quicke revolutionizing the cheddar community in England.

Mary Quicke with a salad she handpicked from her garden
this morning especially for us at lunch at her dairy. Yum!
We met Mary today at Quickes Traditional Artisan Cheddars in Devon County, England for a tour of the cheese plant and dairy farm. Mary is the 14th generation of Quickes to farm land that's been in her family for 450 years. She oversees an operation that includes 1,200 acres and 450 milking cows.

Fifteen years ago, she made two controversial decisions for what was then basically the good old boys club of southwest England: she decided to develop the Quicke's cow: a mixture of Kiwi Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliarde, because she believed the cross-breed would be hardy, fertile, long-lived, and produce the kind of milk she wanted for cheesemaking. She went a step further and put all of her cows out to pasture 10 months a year, using a method similar to the Wisconsin version of intensive managed grazing. Today, her freestall barns stand empty except for the harshest months of winter: January and February.

The result, says lead cheesemaker Malcolm Mitchell, has been dramatic. "We've always made good cheese," he told us today. "But we haven't always made good cheese consistently. The breeding and grazing practices Mary implemented has changed all that."

The "cheese store" at Quickes Dairy. I'm slowly figuring out English lingo.
Malcolm would know. He's worked as a cheesemaker at Quickes Dairy for 31 years. He and his staff, like most every other English bandaged cheddar maker, use bulk starter cultures and five different starter strains to avoid bacteriaphage, which can destroy the heritage starter cultures that have been collected, propagated and used in Somerset and Devon counties for more than a century.

All cheeses at Quickes Dairy are pasteurized. Cheesemakers uses four, 1,000 gallon vats and three cheddaring tables to make cheddar five days a week. The dairy is perhaps best known for its Quickes Mature Cheddar, which at one year old, is rich and buttery, much creamier than other English bandaged cheddars. Mary talks about her goal of creating what she calls a 10 mile cheddar: "Drive 10 miles and you can still taste it," she says.

The cheddaring process at Quickes Dairy.
Quickes Dairy also makes several other cheddars, including its Quickes Buttery, a 3-month cheddar that's twice taken Best Cheddar and beaten cheeses twice its age at the British Cheese Awards since 2009. There's also Extra Mature cheddar, which is 18 months old, Vintage Cheddar - two years old, and Oak Smoked Cheddar, which is cold smoked for 18 hours. The Quickes also buy goat and sheep's milk from local farmers, and make hard goat and sheep milk cheeses, as well as whey butter.

In good news, you may already be eating Quickes Cheddar without even knowing it. I'll let you in on a little secret: if you've ever purchased Borough Market Cheddar at Whole Foods, you're actually eating Quickes Cheddar, thanks to Neal's Yard Dairy, who purchases it and then exports it to Whole Foods in the United States using the Borough Market label. You'll also find it under the Quickes label at specialty cheese stores buying it direct from Neal's Yard Dairy in London.

Thanks so much to Mary, Tom and niece Lucy Quicke - the 15th generation of Quicke farmers - for hosting us today and showing off your tremendous cheese operation. We can't wait to eat it back in the U.S.!
The Cheese Geek demonstrates her strength by hoisting
a fake 50-pound wheel of Quickes Cheddar.


Katherine said...

Cheese mites - I don't really want to think about them, but I'm glad to know others are diligently and creatively working on controlling the problem! I wanted to chime in and say I recently subscribed to your blog and I have really been enjoying these travel posts. Seems like the experience of a lifetime, and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experiences with us!

Jeff @ said...

Well what do you know. If I haven't drop by your blog I wouldn't have known that there are actually cheese mites!

Lizthecheeselady said...

Terrific article. I was thrilled to meet Mary at the ACS last year, having enjoyed her cheese and quarterly newsletter for so long. I had no idea that she was such an innovator, though. Thanks for the info!

Death to the cheese mite!

Andy Swinscoe said...

Nice blog! There is a little more on cheese-mites here too:

Funny to think that the first ever 'scientific/data' footage ever shown to the public was of them. Apparently it caused a storm as people were not happy (not least the cheesemakers for letting their secret free!)