Lizzi Testani - 09 October 2013
When I went to visit the bubbly team making cheese at Simon Weaver Cotswold Organic Dairy during Organic September, I discovered the many ways their operation is unique and particularly in keeping with the 'innovation' theme of this year’s Soil Association Annual Conference.
Firstly, they stand out for making local styles of cheese (Single Gloucester and Cotswold Blue) alongside international styles (Brie, Mozzarella and Greek) with milk that is anything but long-haul. The creamery near Stow-on-the-Wold is physically connected to the dairy by an underground pipe and the dairy herd graze in the attached pasture meaning the field to final product journey could not be shorter.
Aside sourcing their milk from 100m away, they are one of only five producers of Single Gloucester cheese, which has Protected Designated Origin status. It is a condition of making Single Gloucester that you must own some Gloucester Cattle - a rare breed, smaller than a Friesian, brown or black in colour with a distinctive white stripe starting half way down the back and travelling down to the tail. And if that isn’t enough, they are a dedicated organic operation too!
The milk is processed by expert cheese makers Carol, Michal and Phil, who pasteurise it onsite, before culturing and, once the mixture has coagulated, separating the curds into moulds by hand and eye and draining off the whey. After being scalded in a warm, steamy room and constantly flipped in moulds so the texture is consistent throughout, the cheese is mould-ripened in a cooler environment for different periods depending on the desired result. Some cheeses, like brie, are surface ripened by mould, whilst some such as Cotswold blue, are ripened internally.
Throughout the process cheeses are graded and assessed for quality by sight, smell, taste and texture. With adjustments at each stage of the process creating the various desired characteristics, it is unusual to find a cheese maker specialising in a combination of hard and soft cheeses - many of which have won awards!
Roly describes the company's biggest achievement as 'expanding the business whilst staying organic', and they have recently expanded the workforce to cope with the demand. Hari puts this success down to the variety of their range and routes to market, giving them the stability to grow. Aside from local farmers' markets, many local retailers, farm shops and online sales, Simon Weaver cheese is also served on airlines and at landmark football stadiums.
Hari and the team are extremely innovative in the ways they connect with customers and the local community. They engage with schools, teaching children maths and the economics of farming by 'adopting a cow' and have invited the kids in to actually make cheese themselves! They use Twitter, @SimonWOrganic, to keep in touch with their cheese fans, sharing news of events, the livestock and production alike. I felt very lucky to learn more about how their innovative business model pays off and taste the yummy results of their efforts!
Lizzi is a Certification Officer for Soil Association Certification.