Cheese, please

Rosie McGlade visits the only farm in Co Durham making cheese from its own herd and discovers that just a year into production, everyone’s ‘herd’ of it

Carol and Neil Peacock’s dairy cows have a new purpose now their morning milk is siphoned off for hard cheese and their creamy evening milk used for soft cheese.
It’s a relief because milk is a tough game and as dairy cows – tall and ladylike but with skinny backsides – there is little future in beef. Not that anyone would really aspire to that.
The last 12 months have meant the difference between living with the threat of ending dairy production and chewing life’s more contented cud safe in the knowledge that the farm that’s been in Neil’s family for generations now stands a very good chance of being passed down to the Peacocks’ children.
In the last year, Carol has gone from total beginner to artisan cheese-maker celebrated by chefs, delis, farm shops and cheese-eating families in the region. “I’ve been turning up on spec at restaurants and hotels with samples and 95 per cent of the businesses I’ve approached in this way have wanted to buy,” says Carol.
When the Peacocks started thinking about cheese a couple of years ago, they discovered there was no-one producing cheese from their own dairy herd within a 50-mile radius. “There are other cheese makers, but they buy in their milk. The nearest with their own herds are the Wensleydale Creamery in North Yorkshire and then Doddingtons in north Northumberland, and they’re 76 miles away.”
They researched the business and Carol did her cheese-making courses. Then they decided to bite the bullet.  “It was a big step, but we had done our homework and knew there was a market for higher end artisan cheese,” Carol says.
Their first was Mordon Blue, named after their village. Next came a soft cheese called Creamy Camembert and a crumbly hard cheese made to a Cheshire-style recipe. There is now a new feta-style white called Mediterranean Mordon and a new cream cheese.
Chefs in the area have developed recipes including Mordon Blue roulade and Parsnip & Mordon Blue soup, but Carol’s favourite, and one which even the most reluctant cook can quickly knock up, is baked Creamy Camembert. “It’s gooey and delicious and fantastic served with crudités or breadsticks,” says Carol, adding that the business – Parlour Made – is now so busy her mother, mother-in-law, father-in-law and daughter are all helping out.
“We’re hoping to get a second 500-litre vat to double production and we’ll take on a full-time employee. We have space for a third vat, and an endless supply of milk, but we’re walking before we run, because we know that quality is key.”
Making cheese is, apparently, more of an art than a science. Any slight changes to the recipe have to be made individually and carefully logged so they can be properly attributed. What the cows eat also affects the flavour, so there is a slight difference between winter and summer batches which, Carol says, their customers are happy to accept, knowing the cheeses’ provenance and handmade origins.
“All the flora and fauna of the local area is reflected in the taste of the cheese,” Carol says, “and we have no direct control over that. All our Holstein cows are born on the farm, though.
“It’s very satisfying working for yourself, and building something up from scratch. Twelve months ago we had no customers and no cheese, and now the phone never stops. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in, it’s all for the good of your business, your brand, and your family.”
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