Phil Kemp meets artisan cheesemakers Pam and Francis Gimblett
Operating from a well-equipped micro-dairy in the Surrey Hills near Haslemere, Pam and Francis Gimblett produce a fragrant soft washed-rind cheese they endearingly call Floyd, to their own unique recipe developed through sheer hard work and undoubtedly mixed with an intuitive creativity. Their cheese adventure has proven to be one full of challenges, many of which they hadn’t predicted, as Pam explains.
“When Francis first suggested we make cheese we thought six months down the line we’d be in production, but it was crazy to have assumed that. There is so much you have to learn, and the first time you make cheese there are lots of problems you have to solve, and faults you’ve got to refine. And that takes an awful amount of time.”
The couple complement each other perfectly as a team. Pam grew up on a farm, and Francis dreamt of being a chef. This personal chemistry eventually saw them create a successful business running cheese and wine events for over 20 years.
“Clients at these events asked us to provide a myriad of different accompaniments, and increasingly cheese,” said Pam. “So we did a lot of research into the cheeses we were providing, and it was on the way back from an event about five years ago that Francis posed the question: ‘Wouldn’t it be a natural progression that we start making our own cheese?’ – and I rather foolishly and naively said yes!” The Gimbletts both burst into laughter, which I sense was broadly congratulatory but perhaps tinged a little with the harsh reality of what this has involved.
“We did most of our research in France where we met with cheesemakers, making lots of friends along the way,” said
Francis. “We took little bits and pieces of their knowledge to gain an understanding of the nuts and bolts, and it was all about flavour really. We wanted to create something of our own, a cheese that is very complex in flavour, similar to a fine wine which gives a range of persistent and changing flavours.”
Milk of course is the core ingredient of cheese, and my question as to where they source their supplies was fascinating in itself. “Our milk comes from Pierrepont Farm in Frensham,” explained Pam. “Mike and Bev Clear are tenants of the farm’s owners, Countryside Restoration Trust, and their ethos is focused on the welfare of their herd of around 130 Jersey cows, all of which they know by name. The cows come in from the fields to be milked as and when they want, with milking done by robotic milking machines which for the cows’ welfare is very beneficial.”
I was now totally intrigued, and also becoming a tad distracted by a yearning to start exploring Floyd’s undoubtedly very individual flavour. Francis suggested a tour of the Gimblett cheese dairy which is compact but very well-equipped and carefully controlled, both in terms of temperature and hygiene.
“We collect our milk from the farm and heat it to about 38°. We add our starter cultures, which are lactic acid producing bacteria that provide flavour and also serve to make the cheese safe, and then the animal enzyme rennet which coagulates the milk into curd and adds flavour too.” Francis was guiding me around the dairy as he spoke, and we had paused by a collection of circular moulds. “We cut the curd into little cubes and stir to dispel the whey, with around a litre of milk producing one cheese. This is quite a high ratio compared to say a dry cheese like Cheddar as we retain a lot of moisture to give the gooeyness we need for our cheese. This is drained into these moulds to create a 200g cheese.”
Francis moved towards the first of two temperature-controlled rooms. “These are then kept for three or four days at around 18° which kickstarts the bacteria. Then we drop the temperature to 11° for about three weeks, washing the cheese in a solution of brine and diluted vodka. This discourages unwanted mould and yeast, encouraging the bacteria we had added which turns the cheese a pink-orange colour. We leave it a further week before finally chilling it down to about 5° so it is ready for sale.”
I then posed an impossible question, asking them to describe Floyd’s flavour. This was really a poorly disguised hint for a taste but I failed miserably by default. At the time of my visit the dairy was closed in readiness for some building work and the installation of new equipment, so I will have to wait until they are shortly back in production! But based on the tantalising way both Pam and Francis had attempted to convey its flavour exactly as you would taste it – which included wild-mushroomy, gamy, and even at times chocolatey – I will be eagerly joining you in the queues at the outlets where it is on sale. Check out where on their website.
Phil Kemp is a Godalming-based writer and photographer. www.weyriver.co.uk
Gimblett Cheese – www.gimblettcheese.co.uk
Pierrepont Farm – www.rawmilksurrey.co.uk
Pam and Francis are members of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association