NEW VENTURE: Former media executive Mark Samuelson who has turned to cheesemaking during his semi-retirement
NEW VENTURE: Former media executive Mark Samuelson who has turned to cheesemaking during his semi-retirement

MARK Samuelson has always had a passion for eating cheese, but it was not until he retired from his career as a media executive in London that he had the time to take on a new project.

When he and wife Claire moved to her childhood home in Little Newsham, Mark could not fail to notice the neighbouring Kirkup family’s dairy herd, which can be seen grazing from the front window.

This sparked an idea which has culminated in the launch of Volesdale Cheese, a mature, full-flavoured Cheddar-style variety, which is made from unpasteurised milk.

“The first question that people ask is why I have chosen the name, Volesdale,” says Mr Samuelson, who grew up on his family’s dairy farm near Cambridge.

“I wanted to include the word ‘dale’ at the end of my brand name, but all of the other prefixes had been taken and my nickname has been Vole ever since I was a child.

“Another query is why I have chosen the more difficult route of making my cheese with unpasteurised milk. I firmly believe that it tastes better, compared to cheese made from pasteurised milk. In addition, the use of unpasteurised milk gives me a unique selling point.”

The milk used for the cheese is taken straight from the cow, circumventing the main chiller tank in the dairy. Mark collects 350 litres from the farm in a bowser towed by his car. It is still warm on arrival at the Coachyard Creamery, with the cheese made and put into cold storage just four hours later.

This method, he says, gives it a unique taste and the flavour is enhanced by the dairy cows’ forage-based winter diet and summer grazing policy.

The first stage of cheese-making is to pour the fresh milk into a vat, to which is added a freeze-dried bacteria powder. The type of bacteria used has a significant influence on the end result, explains Mr Samuelson.

“The traditional method for introducing bacteria was to add an old horse halter, or even an old saddle, into the milk,” he says.

“I had to jump through hoops to be permitted to sell my cheese made from unpasteurised milk using the modern method, so that practice has certainly not been adopted for my cheese. I am committed to non-mechanised production and I follow a very old local recipe, but there are limits.”

After hand-mixing for an hour, rennet is added and the whey is removed.

Sam Turner

“In the old days, the whey would be fed to the pigs, but today’s regulations prevent it,” he comments. “All that remains are the slabs of curd, which are cut up, or ‘milled.’ Salt is added to curb the bacterial growth and I use Cornish sea salt, because it has a low sodium content, compared to standard salt.

“The cheese is placed into moulds and pressed, before being left to set for 24 hours. The final process is wrapping the cheese in a porous casing. It will keep for up to two years, at a constant low temperature.”

A market has emerged for bespoke labels for Volesdale cheese, and Mark has produced brands including “Kirkydale Classic”, which was made for his milk supplier, John Kirkup. Watlington Wonder was another bespoke brand; it was made for a local shoot. Mr Samuelson is not exaggerating when he describes his endeavour to make products from unpasteurised milk as “difficult.”

He moved to Teesdale in 2014, following the death six years ago of Claire’s father, Guy Beadon, and it has taken him almost three years to meet the onerous legislative requirements for selling his cheese to the public and for the paperwork to be signed off.

Everyone who visits Mark at the Coachyard Creamery is encouraged to try Volesdale Cheese. As it ages, its strength of flavour and hardness of texture increases, offering a choice to the customer within the variety.

The cheese is made in a converted building in the coachyard square adjacent to the main house, which has been in Claire’s family for 150 years.

To meet regulations for commercial sales, it has been tiled throughout, with the requisite drainage and washing facilities installed. Mr Samuelson attended a college course on cheese-making before he embarked on his venture and has since sold cheeses to friends and family, while awaiting the necessary commercial accreditation.

Deals have already been struck with a number of local gastro pubs.

“There is a real willingness among businesses in Teesdale to support the local economy,” he says. “At present, I am undecided about whether to take the cheese to farmers’ markets in the region; other local cheeses are already available on a number of stalls at Barnard Castle, and I regard my fellow cheese producers as allies, rather than competition.

“I am considering internet sales, but I am reluctant to send cheeses by courier, due to the potential risk of product deterioration in transit, in case of delays. But I will be encouraging people to call in at the creamery to buy cheese by prior appointment.

“It is not my intention to produce large volumes of cheese, and I am not planning to approach the supermarkets; the new artisan business is a project for my semi-retirement. It gives me great pleasure when people comment favourably after tasting Volesdale and I have found job satisfaction that cannot compare to my previous career; much as I enjoyed it.”

Anyone who wishes to buy Volesdale cheese can contact Mark by email at mark samuelson@btinternet.com