Tell us a bit about you
I was a nurse for 25 yrs then decided to change direction into cheese making. The same patience is necessary and attention to hygiene plus the ability not to panic when things go wrong!
I had a Thomas Hardy sort of romance about wanting to be a cheesemaker- remember Tess stirring the curd? It is romantic. I’m not disappointed, but there is a lot of anxiety too. Providing food for people has a lot of responsibility attached.
I went on a couple of courses at Reeseheath – a total of 5 days, then converted my single garage into a cheese room. I started to build up confidence and began making cheese.
I loved both the idea, and loved the thought of my own business, plus life on an island with the best milk in the world!
What do you make and why?
Initially, I started making goats’ cheese, but the supply of goat milk dried up, so I went on to cows’ milk and Fort Grey was born (see pics): a soft blue with a shortish shelf life as I have no space to store and mature a harder cheese. This is our best selling cheese. I named Fort Grey after a Napoleonic defence down the lane.
I make a blue cheese because the Guernsey Dairy don’t make a blue!
My other cheese is a white cheese with a blue coat ( because nothing will prevent the blue travelling onto the rind ) and it is named after the Hanois lighthouse down the road.
I am working on another, new cheese, am working my way through the npd, so watch this space!
Tell us about your dairy
I launched about 10 years’ ago and am still very small; I make about 150 cheeses per week ranging from 150g to 800g each cheese.
From the word go, I loved being in my little room listening to radio 4 and working with the golden Guernsey milk. Hard work, but so rewarding.
The milk arrives in boxes which I open up and empty into the vat. My va
t is a very simple hot water jacketed vat with an on/off button. It is described as 250 litres but actually, once you’re hand stirring, 200 litres is the maximum otherwise it comes over the edge!
The business is tiny! Just me and a few hour’s help from Sue, my friend and neighbour. The cheese room is a converted single garage so you can imagine the size.
My dairy is too small! I would love to have a proper ripening room. I have commercial
fridges which are fine but require a lot of time to clean and are quick to rust.
I would also re-do the floor so it slopes towards the drain rather than away from it! I would love another room for labelling and packaging- oh dear, I’m sounding spoilt! (Iona – noooo!)
However, the room is attached to the house so I have no travelling to work.
How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheesemaker?
The Guernsey Dairy industry hasn’t changed much as far as I’m concerned. It is protected here in Guernsey. HRT milk is allowed into the island but not any other fresh milk. Protecting our precious industry is imperative. The milkmen have reduced in number and perhaps the farmers too.
My advice to newbies – do go and see other cheese makers out of your area. They are mostly very generous and kind with their advice. Buy second-hand equipment if you can as it is very expensive. Start small! Be prepared for long hours and for the cheese to completely take over your life. Don’t lose confidence in the early days. It’s scary but nothing is insurmountable. Be on very good terms with your environmental health department. If they know you really care about quality they will support you through all the problems you may have.
Where can we find your cheese?
I sell only on Guernsey and it can be found in local shops and restaurants – there is a list on our website: Torteval Cheese. I come from East Sussex so take it to friends and family when I travel back, otherwise you have to visit our stunning island to buy it.
Favourite cheese making music?
The music I listen to varies – Dolly Parton was in, though I have listened to her too much now, so I am having an Emmylou Harris phase. If it was disco or rap the cheese would def. go wrong!
Name: Fenella Maddison, Torteval Cheese, Guernsey
Twitter: Fort Grey
Facebook: Torteval Facebook
Coming up next time is Claire Burt at Burt’s Cheeses
Are you a small cheese maker or do you know anyone who is who would like to talk to Ribblesdale Cheese – if so, please reply below!