Before having lunch at Woods in Bath I stopped at the Bath Soft Cheese Company’s cheesery, just outside in Kelston.
I felt a sliver of anticipation as I approached the farm (the farm and the cheesery are operated together), and I knew they had just moved into a new purpose-built facility containing all the latest equipment.
Simon Bowden, the manager there, welcomed me warmly, and before taking me around the cheesery briefed me about the history of the company and the five cheeses they produce.
Cheesemaking began at Park Farm about twenty-five years ago. Falling milk prices were forcing dairy farmers to rethink their strategies and the Padfield family dug out their grandmother’s recipe collection and found a traditional method for making soft cheese. Lord Nelson’s father sent his son two similarly made Bath Soft Cheeses in 1801 and the appreciative recipient noted in his journal that it was definitely a cheese to savour. The Bath Soft Cheese Company takes its name from this original cheese. The Padfields have also added a hard and a blue cheese to their portfolio, enabling their company to supply a complete cheeseboard.
The five cheeses
Wyfe of Bath
Wyfe of Bath is a semi-hard, basket-shaped vegetarian cheese. It’s based on a Gouda recipe, but because it’s not pressed it retains about 40% of its moisture, hence it’s softer and more succulent. Salt isn’t added to the curds and whey of this cheese, but instead it’s soaked for about 30 hours in brine. It goes well with apples and also melts well. It’s widely available matured for six months, and direct from Bath Soft Cheese in a twelve months version – which I really liked.
Bath Soft Cheese
The Bath Soft cheese is a camembert type cheese. It’s made to the same recipe as the Bath Brie and Kelston Park soft cheeses (see below) but instead of the white mould being formed entirely from penicillin candidum it’s formed from four parts penicillin candidum and one part geo-tricum. This gives it a thinner rind and a more mushroomy flavour. Unlike most cheese which are soaked in brine, this cheese, and the other two soft cheeses are dry salted. The original recipe even suggests the salt should be spread using a feather.
Bath Blue Cheese
The Bath Blue cheese was my favourite. The particular texture is achieved by crumbling day-old curds into moulds. A couple of years ago this cheese was named the tastiest in the world, beating more than 2,700 varieties. It goes particularly well with celery biscuits.
Bath Brie and Kelston Park
The cheesery also produces Bath Brie (according to The Sunday Telegraph “as good as anything from Meaux”) and Kelston Park (another, larger soft cheese with a longer ripening process and more of a citrus flavour).
How the cheeses are made
Then Simon shows me around, first introducing me to the farm manager with whom he shares an office. “All our cheese is organic”, explains Bowden, “and this gives extra depth of flavour. We provide higher acreage per cow and medication is controlled. It’s all about animal welfare now.” The herd is 160 strong.
Then, having donned crocs, hygenic coat and hair cap we enter the new cheesery. The new facility has been partly funded by the Rural Payments Agency and Bowden assures me it’s made all the difference. “Now the milk is pumped directly into this pasteurisation unit where everything is controlled – flow, temperature and so on.” All Bath Soft Cheese Company cheese is pasteurised which means the company can sell more easily into the hospitality industry.
The cheesemaking process then begins and it’s moved to separate storerooms to mature.
We go into the Wyfe of Bath room and I find myself looking at skyscrapers of plastic colanders. “Yes”, Bowden has noticed my raised eyebrow, “they’re ordinary camping colanders, we use them to allow the cheese to drain, hence the characteristic basket-shape that it has”.
“Then”, he continues, “each cheese is dated and from then on we turn it on a weekly basis. And we hoover it, using an ordinary domestic hoover, in order to avoid dust mites”.
Where to buy Bath Soft Cheese
All the Bath Soft Cheese cheeses are proving increasingly popular – in the same month as my visit it had just been announced that all three had won International Global Cheese awards and the company also has attractive, edgy branding (created by the family’s younger son, Felix, while still at school).
Bath Soft Cheese cheeses are available at Borough market (where Bath Soft Cheese is one of only two cheesemakers to have their own stall), and from markets and wholesalers throughout the south-west, plus, of course, direct on the internet. And as the reputation of these cheeses continues to grow there is no doubt the company will be needing to satisfy more widespread demand.
This post is dedicated to Simon Bowden, with appreciation and thanks.