A fresh and lemon-y lactic cheese, reminiscent of labneh
It’s always with more than a little excitement that we head to a trader’s stall to check out a new product—which we gaily did on learning of the arrival of not one, but three new dairy delights at Blackwoods Cheese Company: yoghurt, cream cheese and fromage frais. And it was with more than a little embarrassment we found ourselves asking: what’s actually the difference between them? Fromage frais must be a cheese—the name’s a giveaway—but… it feels more like a yoghurt. The answer (dignity restored) is a technical one.
“They are all fermented milk products. The main difference is the way the milk’s been drained and the amount of moisture that you leave in the curds,” explains co-owner and cheesemaker Dave Holton. “Fromage frais is called many different things in many different countries but essentially, it’s fresh lactic cheese—though in texture it’s more like a thick, fresh yoghurt.”
To make it, Dave and fellow cheesemaker Tim Jarvis—both of whom saw stints at Neal’s Yard Dairy before founding Blackwoods—use the same curds as they do in their William Heaps cheese. “But it’s drained differently. We leave a little bit more moisture in it and we mix the curds to break them up, so you get a much looser texture,” Dave explains. “When we make the cheese, we want to retain the curds’ structure. Fromage frais has more volume. It’s thicker, richer.”
Fresh as can be
It’s made 20 minutes away from Common Work farm in Kent, whose organic herd supplies the raw milk with which Blackwoods makes all its cheeses. “The milk is collected as the cows are being milked and made into fromage frais straight away,” Dave explains. “We make it on a Thursday and it will be at the stall at Borough on a Friday. It’s the freshest you can get anywhere in the world without going to a farm.”
It’s not a bi-product of cheesemaking: “It is an extra product we’ve created. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t delicious and we think it tastes really good. We sell a lot to restaurants.” Think labneh, the thick strained yoghurt of the Middle East, commonly seen drizzled with olive oil and dunked with hot flatbreads. “It’s really fresh, with a bright, lemony acidity, vanilla-y notes and a milky aftertaste.”
Much like its cream cheese compatriots, its cheffy appeal in part lies, no doubt, with its usefulness in the kitchen. “You can add sugar to it and sweeten it up to make cheesecakes and that kind of thing, or you can keep it quite savoury and use it to make dips or drizzle it on roasted vegetables. It’s really nice just with a bit of honey and fruit,” says Dave. “There are a million and one ways to enjoy it.”