Last week I went with a group from our Women's Institute to visit a cheese making factory. The family owned business is called Wyke Farms and uses milk from farms in the local area. They sell their cheddar cheese all over the world, so you may have come across it in your local supermarket.
The milk is collected from local farms in tankers. When it arrives at the factory it is tested to ensure it meets safety standards and then decanted into the large tanks you can see on the right.
We had to get dressed in flattering hairnets, paper overcoats and plastic overshoes before we went into the factory, and then wash and sanitise our hands. And no, I'm not showing you the photograph taken of me!
The milk then flows through pipes into these stainless steel tanks and a synthetic rennet is added. They don't use traditional rennet now, so the cheese can be eaten by vegetarians as well.
The rennet sets the cheese into a jelly like substance.
It is then cut into small strips and tossed about so that the whey runs off. Apparently they're investigating ways in which the whey can be used in protein drinks, so that there is even less wastage. Once the whey has run off salt is added to the curds. I tried to take a photograph of that process but it was too steamy.
The cheese, as it has now become, is pushed through more pipes and then down into these five tubes, where it is compressed and pushed into a cuboid shaped mould and then comes out at the bottom, where you can see the man standing holding a plastic bag.
The cheese then goes along a conveyor belt, through a machine which seals the plastic and then goes on its way to the packing room.
The cheese is packed into these wooden boxes and sent to another farm for storage. It's kept for anything from six weeks, for mild cheddar, to eighteen months, for vintage cheddar. Then it is cut into chunks, repackaged and sent off to the shops.
Wyke Farms website is well worth a visit; it has quite a few short videos showing different aspects of the whole cheese making process.