The undisputed big cheeses of Geraldine

MOUTHS TO FEED: Talbot Forest Cheese owner Angela Veale says the company is struggling to meet demand.
MOUTHS TO FEED: Talbot Forest Cheese owner Angela Veale says the company is struggling to meet demand.

A Geraldine factory produced about 150 tonnes of cheese last year.

Business reporter Emma Bailey talks to Angela Veale about Talbot Forest Cheese, which she set up with her partner, Paul Fitzsimons, 12 years ago.

How did Talbot Forest Cheese in Geraldine come about?

We set up 12 years ago. Paul had worked for Clandeboye. He was a supervisor at the gouda plant. He went to [Massey] university and ended up in Palmerston North doing dairy research. That was where he met me.

He was working in the industry consulting, visiting lots of little cheese factories trouble-shooting. Then he came home to Geraldine to roost in 2000 and I came, too.

We built the cheese factory [in the complex on the corner of Talbot and Cox streets] and Paul was still consulting, which paid for the development and the bills. In 2001 the bakery [in the complex] came up for sale so we bought that and the building. We bought the Oaks tea room opposite and redeveloped the complex. There are 14 shops now in total.

Our first cheese was a gouda when we opened in Easter 2000; we were quite pleased with that gouda.

Where did the name come from?

Talbot Forest Cheese is named after the local forest, which in bygone days covered the very spot on which the factory stands.

What cheeses have received high praise?

We entered 11 cheeses in the 2012 New Zealand Champions of Cheese awards and won seven medals and two supreme awards.

Our Castle Rock has won high acclaim and our hard Italian parmesan has done well as it doesn't have those underlying baby-sick flavours parmesan can have. We cannot keep up with the demand for The Mt Peel Blue and our Canterbrie. The vintage cheddar is really popular, because generally people don't store cheese and it is unusual to find cheese of an age in New Zealand.

How much cheese do you produce a year?

We are continually expanding and two years ago moved our cutting, packaging and distribution to Temuka. We seriously cannot keep up with demand.

The first year we produced 15 tonnes, and now we produce around 150 tonnes of cheese a year.

How is the cheese made?

A big tanker truck arrives with milk from two farms locally. The milk is then pasteurised by being heat-treated in a vat for about an hour, to clean out any unwanted bugs.

Then it goes into a cheese vat and the starter bacteria is added to make acid; the lactose acid then turns to lactic acid. We set the milk with rennet. We use vegetarian. Basically, it is an enzyme that starts to knit the proteins together. It sets the milk junket, which is like a jelly set. Then it is stirred to release the whey from the curd, like Little Miss Muppet.

We concentrate all the good stuff into the curd and get rid of the whey. The curds are then pressed into whatever shape mould - cheddar is normally into big squares, gouda in rounds and brie goes into hoops. The type of cheese will determine how long each process takes and how much moisture is removed.

Then they go into the humidity room for the soft cheeses to grow the white mould around the outside and holes are poked into the blue cheese to allow the mould to grow in the inside. The French used to scrape mould off the top of caves to put into their cheeses.

The type of feed the cows are on can determine how well a cheese ages. If they are being fed silage or turnips, then that tends to come through if they are aged. We use goat milk as well. The only thing we have not tried to make is ricotta, as it is made out of the whey and the yield is really low.

Once the cheese has enough mould, after about 10 days, they are cut and packaged.

How long does it take to make cheese?

We can make two lots of cheese in about eight to 10 hours. In summer we are producing every day and in the winter every other day as the cows are busy getting ready to have calves.

How much milk is required?

It takes 10 litres of milk to make 1 kilogram of cheese. There is about 90 per cent whey, which is mostly water. We get about 15kg from one vat of 150 litres of milk.

We get milk from two different farms, one is friesian cows and the other is jersey cows. The jersey milk is really creamy and the friesian milk is low fat.

Brie has got a reputation for being high fat but it's not, as there is a lot of moisture. The higher moisture there is, the less room for fat. Parmesan and cheddar are high in protein and fat because there is less water.

How many staff do you have?

We started with just two, Paul and me. Now we have 18.

What has been the latest development?

We have got a website now; we are moving with the times -

We are also finding a lot of couples are making their wedding cakes out of cheese rounds.

What have been challenges?

Having a work-life balance.

How do you unwind?

We have got a 25-acre [10.1-hectare] farmlet and have a horse and animals, so I go talk to the animals.

Do you eat a lot of cheese? What is your favourite?

We do still eats heaps of cheese and, socially, it is kind of expected. If we go anywhere we will bring a cheeseboard. Because I grew up in England, I love the imported English cheeses.

What is your best business tip?

We have come to the point where we realise we cannot do everything ourselves.

There comes a point where you have to delegate and let other people do the job and not micro-manage them.

It felt like it was going to be hard to do, but the people who work for us have made this easy. We did not used to be able to stop for a cup of tea, but now Paul has time to swan around like the boss.

The Timaru Herald