Our ancestors used to call cheese graders ‘fortune tellers of cheese’ – they had an almost mythical status’, says Diane Cox, Wyke Farms’ new master cheese grader. ‘You need to be able to smell a cheese and predict the flavours it will produce in up to two years’ time.’
Cheese grading, the art of assessing the taste and monitoring the quality of different batches of cheese, has historically been a very male-dominated business. ‘It was always thought that the biggest nose was the best for the job’, Diane tells us, ‘and many men had bigger noses – some of them through drinking the local cider!’
There’s now evidence to suggest ladies are equally adept – and in some cases better – at picking up subtle aromas, which is a vital part of cheese grading. ‘Cheese is a living thing and there are many variables that can affect the flavours in the finished product’, Diane explains, ‘like the cow’s diet, the area the milk has come from, the season and how the cheese is produced.’
A VALUABLE ASSET
Attention to detail is key – and Wyke Farms seems to have it nailed. It has been producing award-winning farmhouse cheddar for over a century, using milk from cows that graze the lush pastures of the Mendip Hills in the centre of the cheddar-making region of Somerset.
One of the largest family-owned cheese makers in Britain, Wyke Farms produces 15,000 tonnes of cheese and butter each year – and it’s Diane’s job to ensure the flavour is consistent across all of them.
Every vat of cheese is different, so Diane has to draw on 20 years’ experience in the cheese industry – 10 of which have been at Wyke Farms – to make her assessments, selecting cheese only when it has matured to perfection.
It’s a huge responsibility that requires a great deal of skill; Diane’s talent is so valuable to Wyke that there are plans to secure an insurance policy covering her nose for up to £5m.