Pioneers of cheese - Nut Knowle Farm Cheeses
Thirty years ago, hardly anyone ate goats cheese and it was very difficult to find. Now, thanks in part to Lyn and Jenny Jenner and their dedicated team, it is a much-loved staple. Kate Eastman went to meet them at their East Sussex farm.
AT THE end of a very bumpy track within 120 acres of beautiful East Sussex countryside lies the award-winning Nut Knowle Farm about five miles north of Hailsham. It was established in 1979 by husband and wife Lyn and Jenny Jenner, pictured centre, who make cheese from goats milk.
“When we started it was ridiculously difficult to sell the cheese and nowadays we can’t make it fast enough,” says Lyn. “I honestly think that we were largely responsible for introducing the English buying-public to goats cheese in this country.”
It all began when they lived in Woodmancote, explains Lyn, “We had two Alsatian dogs that used to bark at 4am when the milkman arrived which didn’t please the neighbours. So it was recommended to us to buy a goat for the milk. After some research we found some goats milk to try and we loved it so we went and bought a goat.
“We joined the Sussex Goat Club and they told us goats were herd animals so we got another one and then another and so on until it got to 18 goats. We were milking them before and after work and it was just getting out of hand. “We were working every minute of every day so I said either we go forward with this or we knock the goats on the head and just keep a couple. “At the same time we had just won first prize in a local cheese competition so we decided to go ahead with the goats, we bought out a cheese maker and slowly started from there. “Nowadays we produce a full range of 10-12 vegetarian, pasteurised goats milk cheeses to suit all palates that are all lovingly made by hand in our own dairy.”
Just over a year ago Lyn and Jenny made the decision not to retire but to go ahead and expand. “Last year we put up a new steel frame building to house more goats and this year we are putting up two more buildings plus a rotary milking parlour so we can milk faster. We’ve already more than doubled the production of our cheeses,” says Lyn.
Lyn and Jenny have more than 650 pedigree British Toggenburg and British Saanen goats to produce the delicately flavoured milk necessary to make their famous cheeses. “But that’s not enough,” explains Lyn, “we’re expanding dramatically to keep up with the demand of today. “We supply half a dozen wholesalers and Waitrose but by far our biggest outlays are farmers’ markets. Each week we deal with an average 1,600 customers at over 100 different markets a month across London and Sussex.”
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Their dedicated herd manager, Stuart Rogers, milks the goats twice daily, 365 days a year. “We have a fantastic herd manager who deals with the goats, he has been with us 25 years. He grew up with the herd; he was 17 when he started. He knows each one by name and number, they respond well to kindness and he makes sure they enjoy a good life,” says Jenny.
Over the past decade, goats cheese has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity because of its exceptional flavour, health benefits, lower fat content and its versatility. It can be served on the cheeseboard and can be used with great success in cooking.
“One of our best sellers is the truly gourmet cheese Wealdway Mature, we coat it with edible charcoal and then we grow a white felt over it like a brie and that is seriously nice,” says Jenny. “Our Saint George variety which is a mature camembert-type cheese, won Britain’s best goats cheese for the BBC2 Full on Food programme.“What’s nice about the goats is that they are very good at producing milk and they have a very inquisitive nature. They give their own weight of milk in 10 days at the top of their lactation. They also eat anything.“I remember one of the girls that works for us, her mother came to see her and she walked down the central goat path and she came out with a great big hole at the back of her skirt, says Jenny.”
Nut Knowle Farm cheeses can be bought at local farmers’ markets across the county visit www.nutknowlefarm.com for more information. There is a list of farmers’ markets on the previous page.