Meet the urban cheesemakers: what I learned making cheese in North London

Learn how to get your cheese fix at home with this beginners’ workshopThursday, 23 May 2019

“We blew all our money in Vegas and had to think of something to do, so we started making cheese.” This isn’t the answer I was expecting when I asked Philip Wilton how he started his business. Inside a micro-dairy in an industrial estate in Tottenham, north London, urban cheesemakers Philip and Keith run weekly workshops teaching artisan cheese-making.

“You’ll learn a lot here — but in a fun way,” Philip says. This is good, because for all my love of eating the smelly stuff, I’m clueless about how it’s made. And by the end of the day, I’ll know how to make four types: semi-hard white, semi-hard blue, camembert and a soft curd.

Philip starts by explaining the basic ingredients needed to make cheese: milk, whey and bacteria. I’m half listening to him, half sheepishly chomping on more than my fair share of the cheddar samples in front of us.

“On top of milk, we need three things: enzymes, moulds and bacteria — the kind of bacteria we control, not the stuff you pick up on the Victoria line,” Philip jokes. He goes on to explain that every cheese requires a mother culture, which controls the ripening of the milk and determines the type of cheese being made. 

In front of me are large buckets of milk, one for each cheese type. First up: the semi-hard English cheese. I add the culture to the bucket, then tip in the diluted rennet (an enzyme used to coagulate milk to form a curd), stir, cover and leave to thicken while we head to lunch.

Afterwards, it’s back to our stations — and this time, things get a little filthy. The curd has thickened in its bucket, so I slice it into small cubes and start massaging it with my hands. For the next few minutes, I’m elbow-deep in squelchy, slippery curd, its texture similar to crème caramel. We’re then told to tip the contents of the bucket into colanders — no easy feat, I realise, as specks of curd splash onto the counter and into my eye. Suddenly, Philip turns on the sound system, and out blasts Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I begin simultaneously dancing and spooning the drained curd into containers, which I’ll be taking home to mature in the fridge. As someone who hates getting her hands dirty, I hadn’t expected making cheese to be this much fun.

The thing about Philip and Keith is that, for all their success, they’re not interested in selling their products on the mass market. Take the Cheester Egg, for instance: a solid cheese Easter egg, created in 2017 in partnership with blogger So Wrong It’s Nom. Despite international headlines and high demand for more, the duo instead decided to focus on teaching and cheese-making, which, in Philip’s words, is a ‘form of alchemy’. Not bad for a company born on a regret-filled morning in Las Vegas. All-day cheese-making class costs £135 per person, and includes lunch and refreshments. wildescheese.co.uk

Published in Issue 5 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food

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