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Meet the maker: the cheesemaker bringing curds to the Isle of Wight

Emily Macdonald has brought the cheese curd-making tradition of her native Wisconsin all the way to the Isle of Wight.

Published 30 Jul 2021, 06:09 BST
Emily Macdonald creates cheese curd at the Brixton and Badger Creamery on the Isle of Wight.

Emily Macdonald creates cheese curd at the Brixton and Badger Creamery on the Isle of Wight. 

Photograph by Katie Wilson

It’s first thing in the morning, and Emily Macdonald is bustling about the Brixton & Badger creamery with brisk efficiency. She’s checking the pH level for the 10th time, and it has to be just right. “5.2 is the sweet spot, then the cheese curds will melt perfectly,” she says.

Cheese curds aren’t a common snack here on the Isle of Wight, or in the UK generally. But back in Emily’s native Wisconsin, they’re in every supermarket fridge, waiting to be eaten straight from the bag. They’re also a key ingredient in poutine, the national dish of Canada, just across the Great Lakes.

Making cheese curds seems a far cry from Emily’s former profession — but in a way it’s not. She trained as an infectious diseases nurse back in the US, and was part of the swine flu response team on the Isle of Wight, before later working in environmental health. And she’d been making cheese at home for years. “Mozzarella, burrata and cheese curds mostly,” she says. “It wasn’t such a big leap from my microbiologist and food safety background.”

Emily’s dream was to be a full-time cheesemaker. So, she set about learning more about the process, most notably from dairy expert Paul Thomas’s book, Home-made Cheese, and his website. When she heard he was coming to the island to train staff at a dairy farm, she got herself an invitation and learnt the art of making big batches of cheese.

“It takes 300kg of full-fat, non-homogenised milk to make 30kg of cheese curds,” Emily explains, admiring the blobs of butterfat floating to the top of her vat. She uses pasteurised milk from Holstein Friesians; the churns are left at her farm gate once a week by Wight Milk, a dairy owned by her husband’s cousin. Making cheese curds is a complex process involving bacterial cultures and rennet, heating and measuring, draining and cutting. And, of course, checking that pH.

Emily began selling her curds last year, and the island’s delis and village shops eagerly made space for them. Smart new restaurant The Terrace put them on the menu, coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served with a chilli, apple and coriander relish. The dish became a bestseller. Now, Emily is receiving interest from all over the UK, and she also plans to ramp up production of proper, thick creme fraiche — a request from The Terrace. If it’s anything like the curds, it’s bound to be a hit.

Best of the Isle

Tomatoes
As one of the UK’s sunniest spots, the Isle of Wight grows great tomatoes, with The Tomato Stall producing some of the best. 

Black garlic
The Garlic Farm’s black garlic, which is cooked at low temperatures over a few months, has flavours of clove, tamarind and balsamic vinegar. 

Gin
Mermaid, the first gin to be made on the island, is full of citrussy, peppery flavour, with its lead botanical being local rock samphire. 

Published in Issue 12 (summer 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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