Three times per week and one Thursday a month, between 1500 and 2000 litres of low-fat milk is delivered to Healey’s Cheesery at Waterkloof. The milk is produced from 80 pasture fed Friesian (Holstein) cows and contains neither growth hormones nor antibiotics. Special milk delivery containers bring the fresh milk from just outside of Stellenbosch to Healey’s Cheesery on the foot of the Waterkloof Mountains. The temperature the milk arrives at determines the amount of time the cheese will take to make. On the day we visit, the cheese making finished early as the milk arrived at an optimum 12° Celsius.
Dressing for the occasion
Keeping in mind that the milk is not pasteurized, everything in the cheesery needs to be completely sanitized. This means that the room and equipment is sterilized twice per day and extractor fans run constantly to keep the moisture levels perfect. Desiree collects her 4 staff members each morning as the milk cannot wait. They get dressed in special clothing in an ante-room to the cheesery before starting work. Anyone else entering needs to put on a hair net, shoe booties and a white overall before carefully washing their hands. Dave and I get dressed and don purple latex gloves before we begin our tour.
Jannik explains the procedure of cheese making to us. Every last drop of the milk is taken out of the containers and put into a large steel jacketed vat. Using heated water in coils completely surrounding the vat, the milk is heated slowly to between 45 and 50° Celsius. During this heating period the milk is slowly stirred using an automated stirrer. The speed is varied throughout the process to ensure a good quality cheese. Once this temperature has been reached the culture is added. This is known as the ripening stage and can take between 15 and 20 minutes. Then the rennet is added and after an hour or so the whey can be drained off. The most important factors in this entire process are controlling the temperature and watching the pH levels.
Now the hard work begins
Desiree makes her cheese by feel and knows when to move on to the final stage. The whey is drained off and collected. Being a bio dynamic farm, Christiaan (the farm manager) uses this in his compost. The curds are then cut by hand using horizontal and vertical blades. Once this is done, the cheese is stirred to begin the curing process and then agitated. This is to ensure that the curds are as dry as possible. Cheddaring occurs at this stage and the layers are cut into fingers and processed through the milling machine. They are then salted and weighed into stainless steel containers which are lined with cheese cloth. Wheels of cheese are formed into whole heads weighing between 9 and 10 kilograms, and truckles which weigh 2 kilograms, and are sold whole. Any wheels between these two sizes can be sold as is for weddings and other celebrations.
Letting the machines do the work
Twenty of these containers are placed sideways per load bed and the curds are pressed using hydraulics. They maintain a constant pressure of 100kPa. This stage compacts the curds into cheese and drains off any excess whey. After 24 hours the wheels are popped out of the moulds and the flashings are cut off. The wheel is then dipped in boiling water and covered in softened margarine. They are wrapped in muslin cloth, larded again, and placed back into the press for a further 24 hours. It is imperative that the entire wheel is covered with the muslin.
Ageing the cheese
The maturation room contains 18 000 kilograms of cheese and is kept at a constant temperature of 12° Celsius. This is closely monitored together with the room’s humidity, as the natural ground water can affect the moisture levels in the building. Ideal humidity for maturation is between 80 – 85%. If for any reason the rind cracks, a natural veining occurs. There is actually a waiting list for this cheese as Healey’s do not manipulate any of the wheels to create the veining. It happens by accident, and in my opinion, this is a great cheese whose unique taste gets stronger as it ages. All the cheeses are aged between 8 and 12 months resulting in a natural nutty flavour. The wheels need to be turned once a week to ensure that the fat is evenly distributed. Dave and I get to do this and I can tell you it is very labour intensive, and a good workout. It takes 3 people half a day to complete this task.
Packaging the cheese
Once the cheese has matured it is removed from the maturation room and taken to a processing room. Here it is scraped by hand to remove the excess rind. The large wheels are placed into a pneumatic cutter and cut into large wedges. The smaller wedges like you see above, are cut by hand. These are then placed into the packaging and vacuum sealed before being labelled by hand. These labels were designed specially for Healey’s Cheesery. The cheese is then boxed, ready for distribution and kept in a cold room whose temperature is set at between 6 and 8° Celsius.
A manual labour of love
Desiree was taught her craft by James Healey and you can see the pride she takes in her work as the cheese maker at Healey’s Cheesery. Cheese making starts at 8am and on a good day they finish at 3pm. But some days take longer than others and the process can take up to 15 hours. The environment is the biggest factor in cheese making, and an unknown variable. It differs in summer and winter and so the process is one of constant learning and adjusting. Each wheel is dated with the batch number, how many wheels were made in the batch, and the weight of the wheel. Wheels are kept for over a year for tasting perspectives. Notes are made about the entire process so that they can refer back to a specific day to see what they did when.
Healey’s Deli at Waterkloof Estate
I already buy cheese from Healey’s and will add their sourdough ciabatta to my list when I don’t feel like making my own. The bread comes from a bakery in Stellenbosch. I am looking forward to when they start selling farm butter and free range eggs as I love to support local. This is also going to become our new lunch time spot when we need to escape during the week. There is no cooking on site and cakes are provided by Sweet Cillie’s Cakery. A retired lady makes all their baked goods including pies and quiches and insists that nothing of hers is allowed to be microwaved. Keeping this in mind your meal will not come out of the kitchen in 2 minutes! Healey’s Deli is aimed at long lazy lunches where you can taste their cheese and the other products they have for sale. Basically you taste it on a platter and then buy it to take home! They have an off consumption license and sell their wines at the same price as the winery. Added to a great selection of Waterkloof wines is craft beer, juices and their own blend of coffee. This is also available for sale in the deli.
To end our tour
Dave and I chose to sample the False Bay Old School Syrah 2016 (R83/bottle or R27/glass). It is complex with sweet red berries and a stunning wine. I realized once I looked at the label that I have a bottle at home. And it will be something I buy again. We had the platter for 1 (R85.00) to share which is more than adequate as an afternoon snack. The following Thursday I went back to capture outdoor photographs as it had been raining on the Tuesday. I met a friend for lunch and we both had Juice Revolution juices (R28). I had babotie (R55) for my meal and Erica had the cheese, bread and spread platter (R50). Both were excellent.
+27 21 200 2661. They are open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and until they get extended liquor license on Sundays from 10am to 2pm.
Disclosure: I was invited to learn more about cheese making at Healey’s Cheesery & Deli at Waterkloof Estate and enjoy a nibble and some wine, by Leanne Sutherland of Random Hat Communications. This post is in line with my blogging policy.
Inspiration published on Lavender and Lime September 13:
- 2013 – Kiwi Cocktail
- 2012 – Cream Cheese Pastry
- 2011 – Pasta with Prawns
- 2010 – Something Sweet Challenge To Use Apples