How to make Wensleydale

The following is from the Wensleydale Dairy Products web site and shows the traditional method of making the cheese.

Stage 1 - Milk Pasteurisation & Vat filling

Throughout the morning fresh milk is brought to the creamery by tanker from local farms. Before the milk may be used for cheese-making it is passed through the process of pasteurization which takes place when the milk is heated to  72°C for 15 seconds. This destroys all harmful bacteria without affecting the nutritional composition of the milk. The milk is then cooled and pumped into vats for cheese making.

Stage 2 - Starter addition

‘Starter’ is a special blend of bacteria which occur naturally in milk. The starter cultures convert lactose into lactic acid, ‘souring’ the milk. Each creamery or farm will use their own starter culture or blend be it bought in from a specialist producer or created in their own laboratories. Starter cultures are added to each vat of milk and the milk is then allowed to ‘ripen’.

Stage 3 - Rennet Addition

Rennet is stirred into the milk which is then allowed to ‘set’ until it coagulates to form a semi-solid junket.

Stage 4 - Cutting, Stirring and Scalding

The semi solid coagulum is cut into small pieces by rotating knives and stirrers to release ‘curds’ and ‘whey’. The cutting process continues until the curds have reached the correct size when they are scalded. Steam is passed around the jacket of the vat, heating up the curds and whet by a few degrees. This expels further moisture and stirring continues for a while.

Stage 5 - Pitching

When a certain level of acidity has been reached the cheese-maker will decide to ‘pitch’ the vat. Stirring ceases, allowing the curd to settle in the bottom of the vat. The mass of curd is cut into large blocks and moved to the sides of the vat to allow the whey to run out freely.

Stage 6 - Salting

Salt is added to the curd when the correct level of acidity has been reached, so greatly reducing the activity of the starter. Salting also helps to expel excess whey from the curd, serving as a preservative and enhancing flavour.

Stage 7 - Milling

The salted curd is allowed to ‘mellow’ for 5-10 minutes before being put through the cheese ‘mill’ and shredded into small pieces. 

Stage 8 - Mould filling

The freshly miled curds have a very springy texture but soon start to knit together in the cooler. They are packed by hand into stainless steel moulds which are weighed and loaded onto boards ready for lifting into the press. Some dairies use the traditonal cylindrical moulds as shown above – others will use rectangular shaped moulds which makes the resulting cheese easier to pre-pack.

   Stage 9 - Pressing

Wensleydale cheese is only pressed lightly. Pressure shapes the cheese and expels any remaining whey.

Stage 10 - Bandaging and Packing

Traditional Wensleydale cheeses are bandaged in muslin as soon as they are removed from their moulds. They are then taken to the drying room where they are turned over daily for 4-5 days to ensure even drying and the best flavour. When the surface of the cheese is dry a natural rind forms. Then it may be bagged, labeled and taken to the store room for dispatch, or it may be sent to the maturing room. For block Wensleydale cheese, after pressing, the cheese would be wrapped in a polythene wrap and sent to the cheese store for maturing or simply sent to thepacking line when still quite young.. 

Stage 11 - Storing and Grading

The traditional cheeses are stored in a cool, dark store for 4-6 months and checked regularly by the cheese grader. As the cheese ages its flavour becomes full and rounded but it never loses its famous traits of Real Yorkshire Wensleydale. Block cheese will be kept for varying periods depending on customer requirements.


Sources: Wensleydale Dairy Products, BCB