Brothers aren’t kidding when it comes to making cheese

A Norfolk cheesemaker wasn't kidding about when he realised his dream of starting a business making goat's cheese — and as the lucrative Christmas market approaches, MICHAEL POLLIT finds it's proving a major suc-cess.

A Norfolk cheesemaker wasn't kidding about when he realised his dream of starting a business making goat's cheese — and as the lucrative Christmas market approaches, MICHAEL POLLITT finds it's proving a major success.

Like an eccentric dinner party guest, cheese has a special place in our hearts. Despite reeking of the countryside, leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth and enducing the odd nightmare, it's always welcome at the table, especially when you're popping grapes, crunching crackers or tackling Dad's bottle of whisky on Christmas Day.

In recent years the British have even begun a revolt against the French domination of the cheese market and this year Philip Stansfield's Cornish Blue was the winner at the World Cheese Awards — the first time in a decade we've pipped our continental neighbours to the post.

Here in Norfolk several new cheesemakers have sprung up with a passion to produce top quality bespoke cheese, among them are brothers Sam and Bertie Steggles who have seen their Fielding Cottage small business producing goat's cheese from a farm in the Breckland Valley take off.

Sam took the first batch to Diss Farmers' Market hoping to sell a dozen soft cheeses. He returned empty-handed. 'My brother Bertie thought I'd be lucky to sell 15 but we sold 60 — our entire stock,' said Sam, who lives at Ellingham, near Attleborough.

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Sam, who has a day-job selling poultry equipment across East Anglia, starts at 5am seven days a week to milk his 11 commercial goats.

It had been a scramble since he made his first trial goats' cheese in May after his eight British Saanen and two British Toggenburgs kidded. And as key equipment for the sterile cheese room arrived the day after the Royal Norfolk Show, it was a rush to get everything connected.

However �5,000 prize in the third annual Norfolk Growing Business Awards has helped get the enterprise off the ground.

Sam has always had a passion for livestock, maybe fostered by his grandfather, Russell Steggles, who presented a beef trophy to the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.

His grandson had been thinking about a livestock enterprise for three years. He honed his business plan with help from Easton College and last October took the plunge and bought 10 young goats. He had been on holiday with his wife Caroline and their young son, William, when he heard that there were suitable goats for sale near Carlisle.

He brought them home and found some nearby buildings. Even more fortunately as the goats kidded from early May, there was a disused milking parlour. It is used to milk his 11 goats, which takes less than half an hour, and are producing an average three litres a day.

Sam makes the cheese, every other night, in batches of between 70 and 80 litres after he and his invaluable right hand, his brother, Bertie, finish their day jobs. The pair have been given great help by Catherine Temple, of Mrs Temple's Cheese at Wighton, near Wells.

Attention to detail is crucial, he stressed. So cleaning thoroughly after milking, once with cold, then hot and rinse with cold again takes slightly longer.

'Once I've finished morning milking, washed up, cleaned down, littered and fed the goats, I rush home, shower and then start the day job. I'm really enjoying it. And to get such an enthusiastic response from customers trying our cheese, well it's great.'

It is very much a family affair, with support from his brother, his girlfriend Emma Tarbet, and Sam's mum, Jenny, who has been taught to milk.

Once the milk has been pasteurised at 72C for 15 seconds, he makes the cheese, which takes about five hours. And the whole cycle, from filling moulds, turning 24 hours later, salting, weighing and labelling takes about four days.

'If we make a batch on Monday night, it will be ready on Thursday.'

And he is particularly proud that his first cheese, Ellingham, is 100pc local because the goats are kept in the parish. 'We have food metres — 25m from dairy goats to cheese,' he said.

'We wanted to make something that didn't have a goaty feel to it. It is more like a feta-style scheme, very fresh-tasting. I asked people if they would like to taste a new cheese. And when I told them it was made from goats' milk, they all wanted to buy it because it didn't have an aroma.'

Fielding Cottage can be found on the first Saturday of every month at Beccles Farmers Market, the second Saturday of the month at Diss Farmers Market, Great Hockham Farmers Market and Wroxham Barns, the third Saturday at Beccles Farmers Market and Wymondham Farmers Market and the last Saturday of the month at Fakenham Farmers Market and Repps with Bastwick.

Their cheeses are also available at selected shops and restaurants including Farmer Browns in Norwich, Goodies farm Shop at Pulham Market, CoCoes Deli in Swaffham and Tony Perkins Butchers in Attleborough.

Cheese Buying Tips

? Cheese is best enjoyed fresh, although it can be stored in a cool environment for anything from a couple of days to several months, depending on the type of cheese.

? Buy softer cheeses such as Brie and Camembert in advance, so it has a chance to ripen.

? When storing cheese, either wrap it tightly in foil or cling film, or keep in an airtight container in the bottom part of the fridge.

? To bring out its full flavour, cheese should always be served at room temperature. Therefore, to get the most out of your cheese this Christmas, remember to take it out of the fridge up to two hours before serving.

? Avoid using the same knife to cut different cheeses, as this can lead to the flavours contaminating one another.

? If you've bought more cheese than you can eat this Christmas, it is possible to freeze certain open textured cheeses, such as Stilton, very effectively. Once defrosted in the fridge overnight, the texture and flavour is not affected.

? With hard cheese like Cheddar, when it defrosts it becomes crumbly. You can solve this problem by grating hard cheeses prior to freezing.