Norman McCallum, Cheese Grader at Wensleydale Creamery
Norman McCallum is our Cheese Grader, which means that he grades all the cheese we make on a weekly basis (and that’s a lot of cheese!)
This involves selecting a random cheese from every batch, which is then graded to assess its quality which in turn determines where and when the cheese will be sold. For example, Norman will be able to tell whether a cheese is suitable to be selected to be matured. We also agree different age profiles and flavour strengths with individual customers, so Norman also grades cheese prior to dispatch to ensure that it will meet our customers’ requirements.
Cheese is a living product and there are many factors that can vary the time a cheese takes to mature or reach a certain flavour level – it’s not as simple as saying that a cheese is of a certain age and therefore is ready for the customer!
Experience is the key requirement for being a Cheese Grader. You also have to have the ability to pick up aroma, and have a good sense of smell and taste!
As a cheese grader knowledge of the different varieties of cheese is essential, including their different flavours and textures.
A cheese iron is used to grade cheese – it’s a bit like an apple corer. The iron is plunged into the cheese, rotated in a circular motion (which is a skill in itself!) and then drawn out of the cheese. This provides the Grader with a cross section or ‘bore’ of the cheese to assess. As soon as he inserts the cheese iron, a good cheese grader can immediately detect what a cheese is going to be like – with a good Wensleydale there should be a`judder’ as the iron enters the cheese. The cheese bore is a good indication of the `body’ of the cheese. The iron should be clean and the texture of the bore should be flakey.
Special Reserve Wensleydale cheese should have a mature aroma with a taste that develops down the side of your tongue, whereas a good ‘young’ traditional Wensleydale will have a milder milky flavour with a honeyed aftertaste.
Norman is very passionate about cheese… it’s very much a way of life, with a wealth of experience built up over the years. “It is the rich Wensleydale milk that gives our cheese its special flavour. We also make our own starter cultures at the Creamery, which contribute to the special flavour of the cheese – they give the cheese its unique flavour or ‘mark of the Creamery’.
You could make cheese using the same Wensleydale cheese recipe in other factories in different parts of the country; however, the cheese would simply not taste the same! Cheese-making is a science and an art that relies heavily on the skill of the cheese-maker. Our cheese is special because of the care and attention we give it” said Norman.
Norman joined the company 22 years ago as a cheese-maker, which is when he also started to learn to grade cheese. In his spare time he enjoys fell walking, fly fishing on the River Ure in Wensleydale and relaxing with a pint of Black Sheep!
- by Innway Pulications
- Editor Mark Reid