Derg, a Cheddar Immersion

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Derg Cheddar maturing

I do often come across a bit of ignorance from our mainland European gourmands regarding Cheddar. A cheese named after a little village in Somerset, UK; a few miles from Wales. It also refers to a very particular type of cheese making.  Unlike camembert from Normandy, the name Cheddar is not really protected so it can be found well outside its original region of production and therefore, due to obvious historical reasons, is found in all shapes and forms in Ireland. Shape wise, it is mostly square, rectangular, white or red (due to a carotene type dye); not really exciting, I’ll give you that, but then again, neither are a lot of main brands of Camembert, chalky, dry versus “boing-boing” plastic. “Tomaytoes-tomatoes”, same difference my friends! The truth is, real cheddar is a bit like some famous French cheese, from Auvergne, like Salers, Cantal or Laguiole. They are not covered with cloth, but their texture and taste can be pretty similar. I even have a theory that they might be related through old French monks’ migrations to England, the same way Wensleydale is related to Roquefort… But that is a debate for another day.

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Derg Cheddar with crackers and chutney

My colleagues from Dublin invited me to tag along for a little trip to County Tipperary, where Derg Cheddar is made, on the shores of the lough it was named after… Kay and Paddy Cooney are farmers and cheesemakers just outside Nenagh, a family business where everyone takes part. And this is how it went…

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Kay and Paddy Cooney

First, you need a lot of milk… A hell of a lot of milk in fact! In this kind of cheesemaking, one volume of milk will give you 1/10th of cheese in the end… Scary thought!

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Milk poured directly from outside

Then you need to add the cheese starter cultures, the secret recipe will give the cheese its personal identity, as well as the environment during ripening….

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Starter cultures are added

Then, the rennet is added… “What is rennet?” I hear you ask. Well rennet is an enzyme, originally found in ruminant animals’ stomach; 5000 years ago, people used them as vats to carry the milk. Leave it a bit longer, and the enzyme would do its work to curdle the milk. It didn’t take a genius to work out what was going to happen next. A great way to preserve milk for weeks; Cheese was born! Rennet can also be found in a vegetarian version, extracted from thistle for example…

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Rennet to coagulate…

During this process the whole vat is heated up to a near human blood’s temperature. You want them enzymes to be happy don’t you? Special artificial arms are introduced for this process…

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The long stirring

Fairly quickly, something happens… The curdle of the cheese appears…

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Curdle my lovely!

When the cheesemaker is happy with the texture, it is time to drain the wey… For the little story, Italians use the wey to make ricotta. Health and safety in Ireland is so wasteful, it doesn’t even allow the farmers to feed it to the pigs… Just saying!

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Wey out, curdle in…

Once the wey is allowed to leave the vat, the younger cheesemakers prepare the molds…

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Preparing the molds

Now that the wey is all out, the cheesemakers can start portioning the cheese to be…

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Let’s make cheese…

The very important part in Cheddar making is “Milling”; basiacally, the curd is run through a wee hand mill in order to break it up a bit more…

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The mill…

The cheese is then salted from the inside, unlike washed rind cheeses, salted from the outside…

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Salting…

The cheese is shoveled and put into a mold…

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Ready to be pressed

Now, thanks to modern hydraulic technology, the rest of the wey (and water) will go away…

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The pressing…

We started at 8 am and finished at 2pm. Cheddar making takes a long time. The curds that were pressed were to be doing so for 18 hours… Then released and ready for the last part. This involves a bit of painting, a solution that has been used in Netherland, for a long, long time with the famous Gouda…

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Painting the cheddar…

Then cloth is wrapped around and “painted” again with the wax…

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The wax painting…

And so it goes… Time will send them little guys for 10 months; hard time for real taste…

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Full throttle…

The maturing room, the place of real secrets…

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Ready for the time capsule…

Colleague wanted a full immersion…

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Immersion in “The Derg”

Eat Well, Keep Happy

Slán Tamall

Franck

9 thoughts on “Derg, a Cheddar Immersion

  1. How I LOVE watching cheese being made … it’s one of my very favourite things and when we eventually settle back in France in our forever home we intend to make a little Brebis fromage of our own …. you are so right about Cheddar. Foolish English no AOC so no control. But the good Irish and even the good US Cheddar is good indeed and that looks like a very tasty cheddar with the right consistency and a good bite to it, to me!

  2. Hi Franck,
    Thank you for this lovely feature and photographs of your visit to Derg cheesemaking.. You portrayed the passion and hardwork involved.!
    We enjoyed the company too.!😊
    Paddy and Kay

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