Blessed are the Cheesemakers, Dorset

PUBLISHED: 14:14 17 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013

Blessed are the Cheesemakers, Dorset

Blessed are the Cheesemakers, Dorset

Christine McFadden visits the Purbeck coast to meet the woman behind the award-winning Windswept Cow Cheese Company. Photos: Manuela Boeckle

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Christine McFadden visits the Purbeck coast to meet the woman behind the award-winning Windswept Cow Cheese Company. Photos: Manuela Boeckle

LLike the on-shore breeze blowing from the Purbeck coast, Marion Field is a force to be reckoned with; she knows what she wants and goes out to get it. Five years ago, as a full-time mother, she set herself the challenge of learning to make cheese from scratch, with just a textbook to help her. Now with an impressive number of awards under her belt, Marion is the power behind The Windswept Cow Cheese Company, and the only commercial cheesemaker on the Isle of Purbeck.
I arrange to meet Marion at the 600-acre farm in Worth Matravers, where she lives with husband Robert and teenage daughter. As I drive across the county the reason for the company name becomes clear. The wide-open spaces and dramatic knife-edge cliffs offer no shelter from the elements. The cows here are indeed windswept!
Marions enthusiasm is infectious. Within minutes of meeting her I am already considering making cheese myself, though it would be hard to match Marions incredible talent. She is the producer of the superb Windswept Cow Original fresh cheese, and the much-lauded St Aldhelm Blue, named after the clifftop Norman chapel where Marion and Roberts daughter was christened.
Marion is German by birth and grew up in the wine-producing region of Pfalz. I have always lived in the countryside, and always wanted to be a farmer, she says. Marion embarked on a four-year agricultural degree in Germany, during which she came to England primarily to look at alpacas. Cirencester Agricultural College helped her find a job on a large dairy farm in Buckinghamshire. I had to milk over 100 cows by myself! The upshot of the job was that she met and married Robert, who was training to be a farm manager.
With her characteristic drive, Marion returned to Germany to complete her studies, before coming back to the UK to do a masters degree in Animal and Forage Science at Reading University. The couple moved to the Dorset farm in 1993, when Robert was offered a job as dairy herdsman. Four years later he was promoted to farm manager and is now responsible for a herd of 120-140 Holsteins and Scandinavian Reds.
It was really hard to find work round here, especially with my qualifications. So I started to look for something challenging that I could do from home. More importantly, she was keen to make something special from the cows on the farm. Their milk goes into an 8,000-litre tank but we dont know where it goes or who drinks it, she says. I wanted to give the milk an identity.
Armed with a German textbook, Marion began by making Weisskse, small semi-soft cheeses without a rind. Offering me a taste, Marion tells me how she took the first batch of 30 to Wimborne farmers market, and by noon she had sold the lot. I was over the moon! she laughs. I can well understand her success. The cheese has a clean, fresh citrus flavour and a deliciously moist creamy texture. Encouraged, Marion upped her output and started to supply local shops and more farmers markets.
Her next step was to take a professional cheesemaking course at the School of Artisan Food in Nottingham. Here she learned to make blue cheese and subsequently went on to create her next winning cheese St Aldhelm Blue. I wanted to make a cheese with some blue in it, rather than an actual blue cheese, she explains, cutting open a truckle to check on progress. This is still a bit chalky in places, she says. To me it looks and smells irresistible. The aroma is enticingly yeasty, redolent of grass and mushrooms, and there is just enough blue to give the flavour some zing. Its hard to stop nibbling the morsels that are offered.
At first Marion made cheese in her farmhouse kitchen: I could only make eight or nine at a time, she explains. I had to go flat-out all week just to make 30. After two years the operation moved across the yard to a barn, part of which was converted to the spotless dairy in which Marion now works.
Pride of place goes to the gleaming stainless steel vat in which the milk is heated and stirred until it coagulates. Marion does not do things by halves; the vat was custom-made to suit her particular requirements, as was the super-sharp multi-bladed cheese cutter, the draining tables and the 500-litre collection tank parked in the yard. Its just as expensive to buy ready-made equipment, she explains, so I thought I might as well have things made exactly as I want them.
Marion also gets exactly what she wants when it comes to milking the herd. The milk for her cheese comes directly from 20-30 selected cows rather than from the bulk collection tank. That way I know the milk is coming from the best of the herd, she explains. Their milk is high-fat, high-protein, and their udder health is excellent.
The milk goes straight from the milking parlour to the dairy, so cheese can be made while the milk is still warm. The farm is completely TB-free so there is no need for pasteurisation. That would add another nightmare two hours to the day, says Marion. And in any case, cheese made with non-pasteurised milk has a much better flavour. Another feature is that she uses only vegetarian rennet, enabling her to expand her market to include vegetarians.
I ask her if there are other cheeses in the pipeline. In my head, she laughs. Im struggling to keep up with demand as it is. She goes on to stress the importance of keeping a balance between her work, family and other commitments. That said, she still manages to find time to host an annual visit from 40 London-based A-level geography students, and give the occasional after-dinner speech at a local business club. It remains to be seen whether or not she takes the next step of increasing her output and taking on staff. Meanwhile, her enjoyment of what she does is obvious. My cheeses are all loved! she says.

Marions cheeses can be bought direct from the farm:
The Windswept Cow Cheese Company
Granary Cottage
Worth Matravers
Swanage, BH19 3LJ
01929 439250

The following shops also sell the cheeses:
Chalbury Wine Stores, 1 Littlemoor Road, Weymouth, DT3 6LA
Clavells Farm Shop, Kimmeridge, BH20 5PE
Cleells of Corfe, 25 East Street, Corfe Castle, BH20 2EE
Studland Stores, Swanage Road, Studland, BH19 3AE
The Purbeck Deli, 26 Institute Road, Swanage, BH19 1BX
The Purbeck Larder Farm Shop and Butchery, Bere Farm, Wareham Road, Lytchett Minster, BH16 6ER
The Salt Pig, 6 North Street, Wareham, BH20 4AF
Town Mill Cheesemonger, Mill Lane, Lyme Regis, DT7 3PU
Village Stores, High Street, Langton Matravers, BH19 3HN
West Holme Farm Shop, Wareham, BH20 6AQ

Marions cheeses deserve pride of place on the cheeseboard, and are equally delicious in cooked dishes. St Aldhelm Blue can be crumbled into a bchamel sauce, while the lemony, semi-soft Windswept Cow Original is perfect for cheesecake or heart-shaped coeur la crme. Alternatively, combine both cheeses in this pt recipe.

Windswept Cheese Pt with Celery and Walnuts
This richly flavoured creamy pt will hit the spot with cheese lovers. Portions are small a little goes a long way. The pt can also be used to anoint grilled steaks; it melts into a rich and tangy sauce. Its good with pasta, too, or swirled into soup.

Serves 4-6 as a starter

200g St Aldhelm Blue cheese, diced
175g Windswept Cow Original fresh cheese
2 tbsp single cream, preferably organic
2 tbsp full-bodied white wine or dry sherry
40g freshly shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp finely diced tender celery stalks (from the centre of the head)
2 tbsp chopped celery leaves (from the centre of the head)
2 tbsp snipped chives
2 large pinches freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
Sea salt flakes

To garnish:
Walnut quarters
Tiny sprigs of celery leaves

Put the two cheeses in a food processor with the cream and wine, and pulse a few times until smooth. Tip the mixture into a bowl and mix in the walnuts, celery, celery leaves, chives and nutmeg. Season with a generous grinding of white pepper and some crumbled sea salt flakes. Spoon the mixture into small ramekins, cover and chill for 2 hours or more. Garnish each ramekin with a walnut quarter, a tiny sprig of celery leaf, and serve with hot toasted sourdough or ciabatta.

Recipe adapted from The Farm Shop Cook Book by Christine McFadden

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