The PJ taste team visit Welbeck Bakery

Monday 4th February saw our chefs along with Peter Moulam and John Fitzpatrick travel to the Welbeck estate for a visit to the Bakery and School of Artisan Food. Having long been a customer of the bakery we were keen to learn more about the traditional techniques used and see how their sourdough bread is made.

The delightful buildings dating from 1850 which house Welbeck’s bakery and the school of artisan food

The delightful buildings dating from 1850 which house Welbeck’s bakery and the school of artisan food

Mark Garry, the General Manager, met us and gave us an overview of the business. Having been established over 10 years sales have grown to the point where just short of one million individual products were produced last year.

After donning blue hair nets Mark then showed us around the bakery. A team of 9 bakers is supported by 6 drivers with Mark and his assistant Marie, in the office. With some of the products taking up to two days to make planning and organisation within the smallish space is essential.

One of three sourdough starters that welbeck use for their traditional loaves

One of three sourdough starters that welbeck use for their traditional loaves

Being now mid afternoon we were able to see all the stages of bread making from mixing to shaping, proving and baking. Mark explained that at Welbeck it is importnat to them that only the best ingredients are sourced. So the flours are all organic and the water comes from their own well. Real sourdough bread uses only flour, water and salt (and the skill of the baker). There is currently a controversy over the labeling of sourdough and whether supermarkets should be able to call loaves made with additives and improvers sourdough. This has been highlighted in a current debate sparked by British Bakers decision to allow #sourfaux into its competition category for sourdough, After a stom of protest by the Campaign for Real Bread and supported by Welbeck Bakery the decision has been reversed and only sourdough made in the true form can be permitted. The definition is:

“Breads made 100% by fermentation using naturally occurring lactobacillus and the capture of wild yeasts through a starter dough.’

Mark took us through the process starting with the sourdough starter being mixed with flour, water and salt. This is mixed and rested over a period of a few hours before being shaped for its first “bench rest”. This allows it to gently develop at the ambient temperature in the bakery. After a few hours it is then shaped and put into a floured baneton - this is a mould with ridges on the bottom which gives the loaf its shape once turn out immediately before baking. The filled moulds are transfered to the prover which holds the temperature at 1 degree C overnight ready for baking the following day.

Mark showing the shaped doughs in the banetones

Mark showing the shaped doughs in the banetones

master baker Richard shaping dough for panini

master baker Richard shaping dough for panini

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The specialist ovens which create intense heat on their decks and inject steam to create “oven lift” essential the the final rise and crust quality.

The specialist ovens which create intense heat on their decks and inject steam to create “oven lift” essential the the final rise and crust quality.

Sourdough tin loaves which have getting on for two days fermentation before baking.

Sourdough tin loaves which have getting on for two days fermentation before baking.

From left: John, Lee, Mark, Emily Kirsty and Adam

From left: John, Lee, Mark, Emily Kirsty and Adam

Presentation loaves prepared by students of the School of Artisan Food

Presentation loaves prepared by students of the School of Artisan Food

Close up of presentation loaves

Close up of presentation loaves

All students and staff at the School of Artisan Food eat together in the refectory

All students and staff at the School of Artisan Food eat together in the refectory

Pheasants from the last shoot of the season at Welbeck

Pheasants from the last shoot of the season at Welbeck

A PJ taste tear and share loaf

A PJ taste tear and share loaf

The art of cheese making at Cow Close Farm

The innovative Stanage Millstone Cheese by Cow Close Farm

The innovative Stanage Millstone Cheese by Cow Close Farm

Nestled beneath the majestic Stanage Edge at Cow Close farm, Sophie and James Summerlin are doing something wonderful. They are making great cheese from high quality local milk pouring all their passion and energy into the mix.

The PJ taste chef team visited on the 6th of November to learn more about the process and to witness a batch of cheese making in progress.

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Arriving at the farm it was clear that the family are making all round improvements to the farm.  It was great to see the new tree planting, the activity around the duck pond, and the developing orchard.  Careful driving skills were also needed to nudge past the sheep guarding the car parking area!

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After donning protective coats and hats and using the hand washing facilities we entered the purpose built production area.  James was an excellent guide and over the next 2 hours he gave us a fasinating insight into the art and science of their cheese making.  The science is based around the alchemy of fermentation governed by the bacterial yeast and cutlures used combined with time, temperature and humidity.  However, as James explained not every batch reacts in the same way even thought the scientific variables appear to be identical.  I guess this is where the art of the cheesemaker comes in.  Over the course of the afternoon it became apparent that the art involves the sum of lots of actions and decisions that the cheese maker takes.  Many of these are I guess made subconciously based on their experience and intuition.

But back to the science James outlined how a typical day in the creamery goes.  With an early start of around 7am, 550lt of fresh milk is collected from a neighbouring farm. This is transported back in the purpose made stainless tank and immediately transferred to the creamery ready to be put through the continuous pasteurising machine. This is designed to bring any bacterial counts down to way below any prescribed limits and samples are taken and calibration checks made to ensure this is happening. 

The milk is now held in the temperature controlled creamery, a warm and humid atmospher with the particular aroma of fermenting milk a heady mix of rich cream with a lactic tang.  James then runs of batches of milk into mobile tanks and adds the important cultures of bacteria and rennet.  Incredibly small amounts are used (as small as 3g in the entire 550lt batch) but this given these conditions rapidly multiples and starts to form the milk into curds.

Ever watchful of the time James then cuts the curds to start the process of separating them from the whey which is a clear liquid which although a by product still contains some nutrition.  This goes to the hungry on site pigs which are a cross between Ironage and Glousters.  On our visit we nominated Adam as the whey taster - he was not too keen on its already acidic flavour!

When James was happy with the consistency of the curd the next crucial stage was filling the moulds.  He expained that these had been designed and made specifically for their trademark Stanage Millstone Cheese by Sophie.  Quite an ingenious design which allows the central tube to be removed later in the process to leave the millstone effect.  Whilst on the moulding table excess whey is still being dispensed with through the open mesh floor, a process which is further encouraged by a mid way turn of the moulds.  Quite a skilled operation and repetitive given the volumn being made.

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On to another table to free up the moulding table for the next batch we got our opportunity to help with a further turn.  This operation was not as easy as it looked given that the cheese was still in a semi set form and a dextorous touch was needed.

When James and Sophie are happy with the consistency of the cheese they are transfered to the "hastener", a humidity and temperature controlled space which gives them an overnight opportunity to continue the crucial formative fermentation.  The following day the cheese are transfered to a special maturing refrigerator which is set to maintain a constant 13C at a very high level of humidity.  It is here that the flora of penicillin and yeasts from previous batches work their magic and start to build up the distinctive white bloom of mould on the surface.  This is the Penicillium bacteria and is perfectly space to eat unless you are unlucky enough to have a specific allergy to this mould.

Over the next week this process continues with some sweeps through the shelves to hand pat down the mould to ensure that it is evenly spread over the cheeses.  It is during this time that the cheese is ripening from the outside in, the initially chalky white interior being turned in to the more liquid and distinctive great tasting cheese.  After 5-6 days the cheeses are wrapped and tranfered to a larger walk in fridge where further maturing for around 3 weeks takes place.  Again conditions of storage are crucial and the humidity levels have to be kept at around 70%.

At this point in the day James brought out a number of cheeses at different stages of ripeness and we were able to sample them to see how the flavours were developing.  We also got the chance for a sneak tasting of a blue cheese version which was a pleasant and interesting development of the original flavour.  Whilst the couple were not happy with the level of blue mould that had built at the time of our visit,  I am sure they will work hard to bring this new cheese to market at some point soon. 

With our day drawing to a close we made our way back to Sheffield, enjoying the sunset from Stanage Edge and full of admiration for the dedication and hard work which James and Sophie put into every cheese.  We thank them for their generous hospitality and for sharing so much of this fasinating process.

Beautifully ripe stanage millstone cheese with pj taste sourdough and red onion marmalade

Beautifully ripe stanage millstone cheese with pj taste sourdough and red onion marmalade

Stanage Millstone Cheese is available at these stockists and you can often catch James and Sophie at Sheffield and surrounding area Farmers Markets.  There is some additional slightly more technical explnations of the science in this Guardian article and here from the Reluctant Gourmand.