When Chris Heyes left his job in the city in marketing, most people probably didn’t expect him to become a Sussex cheesemaker. And not just any cheese, but a soft, blue artisan cheese made just feet from where the cows whose milk is used are grazed and milked on the beautiful Balcombe Estate. More extraordinary perhaps, is that Chris’s passion and dedication to cheese making was sparked and nurtured by traditions that have their roots both in Italy and in the remote Aberdare mountain range in Kenya.
Skills learnt from the best
It all started when Chris got a job at High Weald Dairy in Horsted Keynes helping with their marketing. Something clicked, and when one of their cheesemakers left, Chris both applied for and got the position, thereby changing the course of his future.
As a novice cheesemaker, Chris was mentored by Michael Wisdom who had worked for many years for both an Italian cheesemaking family in the Kenyan mountains and on his own farm there. In fact, Michael’s talents were such that in 2009, one of his semi-soft cheeses was named as the fifth-best cheese in the world at the World Cheese Awards! Yes, there is such a thing!
A rare opportunity
Inspired by his mentor’s passion and attention to detail, Chris went on to study with the Artisan School of Food and take over from Michael when he retired as Master Cheesemaker. Six years on, and Chris was offered the unique chance to use the old milking parlour at Balcombe Dairy to start his own cheesemaking business. But as he explains,
“The old milking parlour was OK, but it wasn’t ideal. When the opportunity came up last year to buy four large transport containers that had already been adapted by Cornish cheesemakers, I knew this was a once in a lifetime chance to create and establish my own brand of cheese. The herd here at Balcombe are a mix of Norwegian Red, Holstein and Jersey which produces great quality milk and they graze within sight of my cheesemaking containers. The new milking parlour is just feet away. It was interesting transporting the containers on to site from Cornwall, but they’re perfect for my small batch production processes.”
Traditional processes, all done by hand
It’s very important to Chris, that every step of his cheesemaking process is carefully managed by hand. The milk is not pumped to ensure it retains the integrity of the butterfat, and starter cultures and rennets are carefully selected and measured. The cheese is cut and salted by hand using the most traditional processes possible. Once in the maturing room, again the cheeses are turned and pierced by hand and monitored carefully to ensure the best possible quality. The result is a truly locally made, hand-crafted Sussex cheese.
Named Blue Clouds, in honour of Michael Wisdom’s Mawingo Farm (meaning Cloud Farm) in Kenya, by the end of 2019, the first cheeses were ready, although Chris continually tweaks his production to ensure the best possible results. Of course, like so many other small businesses, the events of 2020 were to have a dramatic impact on distribution, but Blue Clouds has weathered the storm. With a mild and creamy flavour, Chris’s cheese and cheesemaking processes have already featured in Good Cheese magazine and you can now find Blue Clouds in local stores, farm shops and delicatessens including of course nearby Balcombe stores, Forest and Field and Cloughs both in Lindfield.
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