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Drawn together: the cheese mould

Categories: Behind the stalls

Award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the cheese mould

Image: Orlando Gili
Illustration: Ed Smith

Arthur Alsop, Alsop & Walker

My business partner Nic and I have been making cheese for about nine years, for the last seven of which we’ve had a presence at Borough Market. We make a mixture of cow’s and sheep’s cheese, and we also make an apple jelly to go with the cheese—all of it is available at our Alsop & Walker stall.

We take milk predominately from three farms local to us in East Sussex, which gives us a mixture of Friesian and Guernsey. Because the Guernsey milk is so rich, our acidification process is quite slow, which results in quite layered and complex flavours coming through.

Our cheeses cover a good spread of styles. There are white blooming cheeses, in brie and camembert styles. There’s a Sussex blue, and a cheese called Mayfield that’s a cross between a gruyere and an emmental—it’s one of our best known cheeses, probably our biggest seller too. Ultimately, they’re all unified by the fact that Nic and I only make cheeses that we like.

Playing with cultures
Lord London is our best-selling white bloom cheese. In December, for example, we tend to sell over 4,000 of them. The Lord London is really striking as it’s made using the mould of a Spanish cheese called ‘tetilla’, which means nipple—though it’s probably more like a bell shape at first glance. Nic had lived in Spain for a while, so he and his wife wanted to make tetilla, which I wasn’t familiar with. He bought some back and to be honest I didn’t really like it. But I did like the shape, so we decided to make a variation of it that we would enjoy more. I started playing around with cultures, moulds and yeast and eventually both of us were on board.

The moulds we use are the same as for the Spanish cheese—we bought them from a Spanish supplier. But the shape is the only similarity between the two cheeses. And for me, our cheese is far more exciting on the palate. On the outside, it has a white bloom similar to a brie or camembert. Inside, it’s a similar texture to a brie, though taste-wise it’s a cross between the two. It’s neither one nor the other. In fact, I’d say it’s unique.

From transferring milk into the vat, to getting a young, bell-shaped cheese that’s in a saleable condition takes about four weeks. It then carries on maturing, getting softer and softer over another two months.

Bacteria and yeasts
We tend to make around 300 Lord Londons in every batch, as we have 320 singular moulds. The fresh milk goes in the vat and is inoculated with various bacteria and yeasts. Quite quickly, the milk splits into curds and whey. The curd is what becomes cheese.

When we cut the curds we salt them, and then push them into the tetilla moulds. These look like funnels, really, and are basically stacked on top of each other within a cheese vat, which helps to press the curds.

We monitor the pH of these cheeses continually for about 24 hours while they are being pressed. During that time, they lose a little moisture, develop acidity and become firmer, and when they’re at our desired level of acidity, we turn the cheese out of the moulds and stack them on shelves in the maturing room. After about seven days we start to see white mould growing on the cheese. Two to three weeks later they’ll be ready to wrap.

Cutting etiquette
The bell shape of the Lord London might baffle a few when it comes to cutting etiquette. The shape certainly creates a new angle to the great debate of whether or not it’s polite to cut the nose off a wedge of cheese! But for the record, I tend to cut slices from the cheese as if I was cutting a cake—from the point of the bell, straight down the middle. People might think the different widths of the bell lead to different textures through the cheese, but because of the humidity we mature them at, the texture is pretty even right the way through.

The Lord London is not just for the cheese board, although of course I like it there—and it looks excellent as the top tier of a wedding cheese cake. It is versatile. For example, in summertime I like to pick a young one, which will be firm and chalky, cut it into thin slices and use it in a sharply dressed green salad, perhaps with some dry toasted almonds.