Food Focus: No kidding about quality of our local goats cheese

TUCKED away at the end of the Childwickbury Estate, down a pretty lane flanked by bluebell woods and rhododendron bushes, is the home of some very happy goats.

They have lots of outdoor space to explore, a play tower for the kids, and a large, spacious barn for shelter. As a result, their milk produces the most delicious goats cheese, which is well-known to local foodies.

The owner of the goats, Elizabeth Harris, does everything herself, from caring for the goats, delivering the babies, milking, and making the excellent cheese by hand. This cheese is the most local, freshest cheese we can buy in this area; within three-four days of milking, the fresh cheese appears in Buorngiono Italia and at the Saturday market in St Albans.

I bumped into Elizabeth a month or so ago outside The Farmer’s Boy pub on London Road, St Albans, where she was collecting the used hops. She explained that the mini brewery there uses hops to make their own ale, and when they have finished they call her and she comes to collect the hops.

They are not an essential part of the goat’s diet, but apparently the goats love them, so Elizabeth collects them as a tasty treat! I thought at the time that I had to find out more about this unusual cheese-maker.

As Elizabeth showed me around her immaculate dairy, she explained that the herd has grown over time, from the first two goats that she and her husband David bought almost 20 years ago as part of their move towards self-sufficiency.

The family could not drink all the milk the goats produced, so Elizabeth took a course in cheese-making. She started making the cheese when her children were at school.

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Elizabeth now makes between 200-250 small cheeses a week (each approx 140g), with just a little help from a friend on Wednesdays.

Each day she milks the goats in a light, airy barn. She pasteurises the milk (heated to 72 degrees) to get rid of any bacteria that might pop up. Elizabeth then adds a starter culture, followed a little later by rennet, which solidifies the milk.

Later in the day she returns to “cut” the cheese, and put the solids into round containers. Over the next day or so, the curds and whey separate, until she is left with a perfect round goat’s cheese at the bottom of the container. It takes about 1 litre of milk to make each cheese.

The flavour and fat content of the milk and cheese vary through the year, depending on the goats, and their diet. In the winter the milk is very creamy and Eliabeth can make more cheese from the milk. It really is an art form, as she has to be guided by the milk each time.

If you would like to try some delicious Childwickbury Goats Cheese, there are only three places that sell it; Neal’s Yard, who take most of the cheese, Filippo Volpe’s cheese stall at the Albans Saturday market, which is located near Monsoon, and Buorngiorno Italia, (Lattimore Road, St Albans). Elizabeth simply doesn’t have the time to make any more at the moment!

Most of the cheese Elizabeth makes is the fresh goats cheese, but she does also make a matured cheese; Verulamium, which takes two weeks to mature.

She sells most of it to Neal’s Yard who do the maturing themselves, so you will need to head into London to find that one.

I visited Childwickbury Goats on Tuesday, and the cheese Elizabeth was making was destined for delivery to Buourngiono Italia on Thursday.

I spoke to Buorngiorno Italia and Tony explained that the cheeses come in on the Thursday afternoon and are often sold out by the end of the weekend, often to regulars in the know.

Tony sells the cheese at �4.25. Neal’s Yard sells it for �8.00 at the moment, which is because they have to drive to Childwickbury each week to collect it, and pay for the shops.

But it does show what a good deal local customers are getting!

Last year, Jamie Oliver bought Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese from Neal’s Yard to serve at the G20 Summit Dinner. Guests included Barack and Michele Obama. Jamie chose what he considered the best of British produce to showcase the UK to the international crowd. Elizabeth found out when friends saw the menu in the national papers!

If you manage to track down some goats cheese, then you are in for a treat; it is very mild, light and creamy and spreads very easily. You should eat it within a week or two as it is a completely fresh product.

Many people find goat’s milk easier to digest than cow’s milk so there are some health benefits too. You can cook it, as it grills and bakes well, and you could use it in quiche or potato dauphinoise. But once you get out some crackers and try some, I doubt it will last long enough to cook with it!