Posted 7 December 2012
By Harper Adams Forum Reporter, Greg Parkes
David and Jo Clarke of the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company visited the Harper Adams Forum Society to talk about their business and farm.
The main cheese produced is called the ‘Sparkenhoe’ - a nutty and sweet Red Leicester cheese, which takes its name from the farm and the old medieval hundred area in which the farm is located.
Between 1745 and 1873, cheese was produced at the farm by the Chapman family, with Red Leicester last produced by the Shepherds of Bagworth, who ceased production in 1956.
Mr Clarke explained the processes involved in developing the business after noticing a need for diversification in 2001. From 2001 to 2003 they explored many different options and finally set upon cheese production in late 2003.
It was not until 2004, that the idea to produce Red Leicester came about. The Clarke family, on the recollections of a friend, aimed to produce a Red Leicester cheese similar in taste and texture to that produced by Shepherds.
After an intensive cheese making course and building work, the first batch of Sparkenhoe Red Leicester was produced in 2005. It was the first Leicestershire cheese to be made on a farm in Leicestershire for 18 years and in March 2006, the Clarke family began to supply Neil’s Yard Dairy, a prestigious cheese outlet in London.
Mr Clarke believes that the production of a good cheese begins with the cows. His cows graze lush grass-clover pastures year round and are also fed forage maize and forage oats. Welfare is highly important to him and all animals are treated as individuals.
The herd is milked twice daily and one batch from each day goes to the cheese dairy, while the other is sold on a contract. Mr Clarke pointed out that the best price may not always be achieved when the milk is sold because they aim to produce milk with qualities suitable for cheese production.
After much work in the cheese room; which includes the addition of annatto to the milk and separation of the curds and whey; the curds are pressed after being placed in a mould and are wrapped in lard and cloth to begin the ripening and ageing process. The cheeses are left to ripen on beech wood shelves for approximately six months. Vintage Sparkenhoe is left for a longer period and the cheese is made in 10kg and 20kg round wheels.
Sparkenhoe cheese is sold throughout the country at farmers markets, artisan shops, supermarkets and many other outlets.
The farm is LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) accredited and everything on the farm aims to improve and nurture sustainability. Recent developments in the business have included the addition of solar panels to the roof of the cheese room and the introduction of a biomass burner.
As well as the company’s initial cheese Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, they now produce Sparkenhoe Vintage, Battlefield Blue and Bosworth Field.
The Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company is endorsed by a very supportive Clarissa Dickson Wright at any opportunity and the business won the ‘Good House Keeping Food Awards 2011 Small Cheese Producer to watch.’
For more information, please visit: www.leicestershirecheese.co.uk