Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the Fight For Real Cheese

“In the UK, over the course of the 20th century, we managed almost completely to destroy the institutions and infrastructures of expertise. So, a lot of my job is just looking for answers to questions. Factory cheese is very different from farm cheese, and the main question we are trying to address is: How do we rediscover or re-create a working knowledge of the mechanics of farmhouse cheesemaking? Even just a decade ago, there was a virtual consensus that cheesemaking was simply what you did to milk, this very standardized raw material that was transformed by the magic that occurs in the cheesemaking vat. What distinguished farm cheese was only that it was made on a smaller scale, by hand. Today, we’ve totally broken away from that viewpoint. Our view has become a lot broader. We still need to understand the make: How can we coax the full potential out of the milk, and allow it to express itself fully rather than covering it up by insensitive methods? But—and this is the part we’d barely imagined—how do you produce milk that actually has something interesting to say? Fresh milk tastes milky, but making cheese has the capacity to reveal its latent characteristics. Without any lab equipment, it’s possible to make something that explores the good milk’s latent chemical and microbiological potential. That potential is determined by the way the milk is produced.

—Bronwen and Francis Percival. “Obsessed: The Fight for Real Cheese.” September 2017.

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