THE FARM

The river Blackwater rises on some of the high ground of the forest and as the heather and gorse gives way, to the old ancient oak forest, home of the fallow deer, the countryside falls away sharply towards the north. In the bottom of the valley you will find the Hamptworth estate, of which Lyburn farm is part.

History

In the beginning, we moved to Little Buckholt Farm , West Tytherley, Hampshire, in 1952 having bought the 50 acre farm. Starting with 3 cows, all Guernseys, Faith, Hope and Beatrix, we will have milked cows, twice a day, every day since that year, 3 generations and spanning 60 years. In 1969 we took on Lyburn Farm, and started with about 270 acres and 200 cows.

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Within the farming community, life moves on, practices change all the time, and in general farmers don’t move that far or very often. So over the intervening period, we have grown to about 500 acres, added Organic Vegetables to our cropping, grow a large number of pumpkin, and the diary herd has become smaller and now number approximately 170 cows.

The Organic veg and Pumpkin have their own web sites, and this page is to give you an overview of the cows and cheese. So over the intervening period, we have grown to about 450 acres, added Organic vegetables to our cropping, grow a large number of pumpkin, and the dairy herd has become smaller and now number approximately 170 cows. The Organic veg and Pumpkin have their own websites, and this page is to give you an overview of the cows and cheese. In 1969 we took on Lyburn Farm and started with about 270 acres and 200 cows. Within the farming community, life moves on, practices change all the time, and in general, farmers don’t move that far or very often.

Four generation and
60 years milking cows.

Producing Cheese

The whole operation of producing cheese is very much a team effort. Phil has been at the farm a long time now and knows each of the cows as individuals. His job, as herdsman, is to produce clean wholesome, good quality milk with low cell counts. The cows produce about 1.3 million liters of milk a year, of which we turn about 50% into cheese.
James, will then use his skills as a cheesemaker, to turn the milk into curds. Then, eventually cheese, over a period of 10 weeks to 18 months. Andy and Stevs role is overseeing the maturation of the cheese, the packing and distribution.  Jono our eldest son will look after the farm and do the muddy boots bit, Judy will look after the farm office.

Milking the cows

Cows will have been milked at Lyburn farm for years, and the old cow byre with it’s hay loft above, next to the farmhouse, that would have taken 10 cows, is now the farm office. In the old days, there would have only been 10 cows, and during the winter they would have stayed in the byre all winter and tied with a chain around the neck.
During the course of the summer our cows graze the fields close by, and then when it gets too wet, in September, they are brought back to the farm and will stay indoors all winter and be fed on Maize, Grass silage and concentrate to top up the protein in their rations. Another year passes and when the fields dry out and the grass starts to grow the cows will be turned out again in April.

Home-bred Cows

Our cows are all pedigree, that means that we breed from them, keep the best and record their births and their family lines can be traced back probably in some cases 60 years. They all have 2 ear tags, and relates their passport number, and it is a number they keep for life. We breed our own heifers, or replacements as we call them, as it then reduces the risk of having to buy in cattle that might have health problems, such as TB and BVD. We try to get the cows to calve once a year, they will then milk for 10 months and have a 2 month rest.

Twice a day

The cows are milked twice a day through a herringbone milking parlour. Here you see Phil putting the clusters on the cow. It takes about 2 or more hours to milk them all, and the milk that we don’t use for cheese making, is quickly refrigerated and passes into a large tank, that holds the milk at a temperature of 4 ° C. to keep it fresh. It will stay there until it is collected by the lorry and taken to the factory to be bottled. The milk we use for cheesemaking is not cooled, collected, in a stainless steel tank, and as we are about to use it straight away, this saves the power and electricity needed to refrigerate it, and the fact that the cheese is made on the farm, there is no cost in having to transport the milk, substantially reducing our carbon foot print. This is then further improved by the fact that most of the electricity we use for cheesemaking, is generated by solar power.

Early starts

We start at 6 am in the morning, once the cows have been milked. The milk, 3000 litres, is then quickly pasteurised, taking approximately two hours, and then cooled down to around 28 degrees. James will then add the starter to create the ideal conditions for the rennet. When the rennet is added, it has the effect of turning the milk into a block of soft curd just like a blancmange, and then just at the right moment, the curds are cut to release the whey. Again times and temperatures are critical and this is where the skill of the cheesemaker comes in, James has to know exactly when to put the curds into the moulds. The whole operation is then finished by about 1-30pm. At 6am the milk is in the cow, by lunch time, it is cheese.

Cheese Moulds

The large white bowls or containers are actually the cheese moulds. They come in two parts, the base that will take approximately 6kg of curd and then the lid that then sits on the top, fits exactly inside the base and acts as a kind of piston. Once the bases have been filled to the brim the lid is placed on the top and they are then put into the press, and stacked 5 or 6 high. Above the column of bases and lids, there are pneumatic Rams, these are then activated, and all night long the rams will exert pressure on the column, this will then give the cheese its shape, knit the curd together, and the remainder of the whey will drain out.

Forming the Cheese

The following morning the cheese is then knocked out of its base, and the perfectly formed cheeses, normally 54, are taken next door to the brine tank. If we were making a cheddar, all the whey would have been drained away and the cheese would be dry salted, but this is not the case here. The cheese will sit in the the brine tank for about 24 hours and will generally absorb, of its own accord, about 1.5% salt, so it is self regulatory. Even if you left the cheese in the tank for another 24 hours, the amount of extra salt absorbed will not be a greatly different. The following day the cheese is taken to the drying room on trolleys and allowed to dry, and given a batch number, that will allow us to identify each cheese until it is finally sold.

Ripening the Cheese

To get the cheeses to ripen, they are stacked on shelves or racks, with plenty of air flow around them. They are then turned on a regular basis, to ensure even ripening, and that they do not dry out at the top. The ripening rooms, ( we are a bit short on caves in the New Forest) have to be kept at a certain temperature and a constant humidity, so that the cheeses ripen at the correct speed for the ensuing period. Here you see a selection of cheeses in the ripening room. These have been here for some 7 months as they are being ripened on for Winchester’s. At any one time we will have about 10,000 cheeses maturing. This does represent a huge investment in time and money, however as an artisan producer it is the only way to compete with the big players, making something special, is what we do.

The Final Product

The moment of truth is 2 months later when all the batches are graded. How good are they, what are the strong points and the weak points. Every batch can be slightly different to the previous, what do they smell like , what is the dry matter, have they maintained their shape, and the final factor, what do they taste like. All the detail of the make is recorded and when we grade cheese we refer back to the make sheet, and that is how we learn to make changes, improve the cheese, and strive for perfection.

Take a look at the cheeses.