Tymsboro': secrets of the pyramids
A small, pyramid-shaped goats' milk cheese of great finesse, Tymsboro' is made from unpasteurised milk by Mary Holbrook of Sleight Farm in the Mendips in south-west England. Its almondy lemony flavour is as subtle as it is delicious, as Dee McQuillan reports.
Two good questions might spring, with a goat-like bounce, to mind: why Tymsboro' and why now? Answer number one is that this dense white cheese is one of Delia's favourites and features in dinners at her Norwich City Brasserie, and answer number two is that the Tymsboro' makers follow tradition and only milk the goats once they have started grazing outdoors – from spring through to the autumn.
In May, once the milking and making has really got into the swing, grand French country restaurants make a great show of the new season's goats' cheeses, which they call chèvre, lining up all the pretty little button, pyramid and cylinder shapes on leaf-lined trays. The staff will, if your French is good enough to follow them, dumbfound you with details about which are fresh and fluffy and which have been carefully coated to produce the mould that will help them mature. As Britain now has several skilful farmhouse goats' cheese-makers we'd like to foster a similar pride in their produce.
Funnily enough, there are also at least two good reasons for taking a break from milking the goats: the goats benefit and – as goats are all they are cracked up to be in terms of crankiness and independence – so does the farmhouse cheese-maker who gets a few months remission from their antics in the milking shed. The goats that supply the milk for Tymsboro' are around 90 in number and are a special, farm-bred mixture of British Saanen, British Alpine and Anglo-Nubian stock which archaeologist turned farmer and cheese-maker, Mary Holbrook developed in pursuit of the best milk for cheese – each breed gives different percentages of protein and butter fat.
Her flock – 'fairly athletic for dairy goats' – has been going outdoors intermittently since April because the weather has been so bad. They spent the winter trying to roost in the hay racks indoors and now have the steep slopes of Sleight Farm to contend with. 'Goats,' says Dr Holbrook, 'are individualistic and destructive.' Electric fences are a great help to their keepers – 'the one thing they can't get through or rub against until it falls down'.
However, they are not the voracious, four-legged Hoovers we have been led (by Val Doonican and his 'Paddy McGinty's Goat' among others) to expect. 'They are very selective eaters – they like thistles, nettles and other weeds,' says Dr Holbrook. Such a selection may not sound select to us, but goats do not live by grass alone and the unimproved, untreated old pasture on Sleight Farm is rich in the vegetation that lets them produce the best milk.
There are two kinds of goaty flavour: one is innate to the milk and is caused by a short-chain fatty acid unique to goats, the other is an off flavour the delicate milk and developing cheese can take on easily unless expertly handled. The latter is 'not necessarily poor hygiene' – moving the milk around and overworking the cheese can cause problems. The fat globules in goats' milk, famed for their superior digestibility, are fragile and easily damaged during cheese-making unless the maker knows his or her stuff. Mary Holbrook learned her skills by reading and visiting traditional makers of French and Portuguese goats' cheese. 'Straightforward copying' is how she describes it.
'The milk must be very fresh – the oldest we would use would be from the previous evening,' says Dr Holbrook. 'Morning milk is good because you don't need to heat it much.' She uses the milk unpasteurised, brings it up to 20-22°C and adds a starter – a culture that will sour the milk – plus a tiny amount of rennet. Left in tubs for 24 hours to incubate, this forms a very soft, delicate curd in the best French tradition of 'long coagulates and low temperature'. At this stage Tymsboro' is 'very delicate because there is so little rennet' and can be ladled into its moulds just like Camembert.
The Tymsboro' moulds are shaped like pyramids, minus the pointed top, a classic French shape said to be the result of Napoleon's pique – after the failure of his Egyptian campaign he chopped the top off a poor pyramid of Valencay goats' cheese. 'Because the cheese has not been pressed up until now, the whey drains slowly out of the moulds and it shrinks a lot. After about two days draining we press it lightly, just for prettiness. We turn it on to plastic mats and salt it, then turn and salt again. When it is firm enough we mix charcoal powder and salt together and lightly pat a coating on – it looks horrid if we leave finger prints.'
Powdered charcoal coating is another French practice. This gives a slatey grey colour that contrasts to the white interior and helps beneficial moulds, which enhance flavour, to grow on the cheese rind. 'If the cheese is not too dry the mould should be established within seven to ten days. We used to have to add some penicillin culture too, to help the mould, but now this is not necessary as it is around naturally in our ripening room. We mature the cheese for three to four weeks, though it can go on ageing for up to three months – at that stage the flavour is pronounced and salty.'
It is Mary Holbrook's opinion that 'not every cheese improves with keeping – our summer ones generally will, whereas the autumn ones, which are rich in fat and protein, hold more moisture and therefore don't keep well.' Every batch of cheese varies but each, says stockist Neal's Yard Dairy, has an almondy lemony flavour more subtle than most cheese-makers can manage.
Where to buy Tymsboro'
Tymsboro' is available from all good cheese shops, including Neal's Yard Dairy.
Note: This cheese is made with unpasteurised milk. Pregnant women are advised not to eat soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk.
Return to Homepage
Have you looked at the Delia Online Cookery School
Most Popular news & features articles
- A dairy dozen
- Asda is no longer stocking its Thai green curry mix. So instead...
- An Italian lunch or dinner menu
- Ask Delia...
- Asparagus: bringing up the spear