As a child in Hathersage, Sophie Summerlin remembers the milk being delivered from nearby Cow Close Farm. Little did she dream that one day she’d be living on that farm... and producing her own brand of artisan cheese.
Textile designer Sophie and IT consultant James Summerlin came up with the idea after moving to Cow Close, where they are converting a barn, in 2013.
“We wanted a foodie business and we also wanted to promote the North Lees and Stanage Estate. It’s so well known, and struggling a bit to make a living, but there are no products from this area,” says Sophie.
“We knew there was a market for cheese as there are very few artisan makers around, but we wanted to keep it high end and hand made.”
Both she and James were new to cheese making: “But cheese tasting has always been a passion!”
They began their quest by training at Welbeck School of Artisan Food, then developed a recipe and finally, with the help of cheese consultant Paul ‘The Wheymaker’ Thomas, honed their soft, creamy cheese with a bloomy rind.
Using milk from a neighbouring farm, they first pasteurise it, add a blend of cultures and rennet, then cut, stir and pot the curds and allow the whey to drain away. The cheeses are then hand-salted and left to develop their bloomy rind before being wrapped and matured.
“We made lots of cheese in the kitchen and then in our production environment until we were happy with it. Paul advised that we cut the curds smaller – the whey drainage can significantly affect the final water content,” says Sophie.
Other adjustments included reducing the white mould coating, to cure a bitter aftertaste.
Perfecting the recipe is a time-consuming process: “Every time we make a change, it takes six weeks from make to mature, so we have to be patient.”
When it came to the shape, James and Sophie had a brainwave, using standard food grade water pipe and cheese matting to create moulds which transform each round into a millstone.
Production began in earnest in April and Cow Close Farm’s Stanage Millstone cheese is already proving a hit. It won two silver medals at this year’s Bakewell Show and is now on sale at more than a dozen farm shops and delis around the area.
“Stanage Millstone is very versatile,” adds Sophie. “It can be eaten on its own, with bread or crackers, or used for cooking, melting like a Reblochon. A tartiflette is perfect for when it’s cold outside, served with a fresh wild rocket salad and tomatoes.”
Recipe by Sophie Summerlin: Cow Close tartiflette
250g lardons, or thick bacon cut into bite-size pieces
1 or 2 Stanage Millstone cheeses
Salt & pepper
6 medium unpeeled waxy potatoes, cut into ½ cm slices
2 white onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely diced
Boil the potatoes until al dente, drain and set aside for later.
Fry the onions in a small amount of oil, adding some salt and freshly ground black pepper; cook until soft. (Remember bacon and cheese contain their own salt, so take care not to add too much).
Add the garlic and lardons and fry until the bacon is cooked and the onion is caramelised. If this sticks to the pan, add a splash of water or wine, not more oil.
Take an oven proof dish and arrange a layer of sliced potatoes to cover the bottom. Add a layer of onion and bacon mixture, then another layer of potatoes. Continue layering until you either have no more, or the dish is full.
Take the cheese and either cut into two around the equator or break into chunks. I leave the white rind on for added punch. Place cheese on top of the layered potato and bacon mixture.
Bake in a preheated oven (about 200°C) until the tartiflette is bubbling hot (10-15 minutes).
Allow the dish to cool slightly before serving with a salad of leaves and tomatoes. Or you can bake it earlier in the day, then pop it back into the oven to heat through just before serving.