Mother, entrepreneur and all round food lover Juliet Kennedy is driven by her quest to find the finest local artisan produce. This month she turns her attention to cheese, visiting the Sirimon Cheese studio in Laikipia County.
Right from the day I started singing Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey (which, for the unfamiliar, refers to cottage cheese, albeit in a slightly more poetic manner), I’ve been obsessed by the many variations of cheese. More recently, I’ve become obsessed with anything artisan. The idea of any product that is made by artisans is exciting primarily because it is small batch, created from a place of passion and not by the business monoliths we have come to rely upon for so many years.
Today we’re experiencing an awakening around the origin of food, which in itself leads to an appreciation of quality in the food that we buy and consume. This is what led me to Sirimon’s Cheese studio in Laikipia County – an enormous undertaking in an area where income opportunities for the local community can be challenging. Bouncing my way up an unassuming track to the factory gates, I started to wonder where the milk required to make the quantities of cheese required for Sirimon – a brand that has exploded onto the food scene in the last two years – comes from.
Shamas Velani, the CEO at Sirimon, sits in an airy office with views of Mt Kenya’s jagged peaks from one large glass pane window and a bird’s eye view of his cheesemakers from the other. It’s a clever move, although if it were me sitting there I’d spend half my time drooling over the cheese being made below. He listens to some eighties pop on his music system and calmly oversees the day to day running of his company. Sirimon collects 5,000 – 6,000 litres of milk per day from approximately 175 dairy farmers in the surrounding area, and they pay within 15 – 30 days ensuring fair terms for the farmer. Once collected, each batch of milk is tested for acidity levels and microbial load and if it doesn’t meet the appropriate standards, it’s rejected. To help farmers avoid this, Sirimon works through various local partners to help improve milk standards so that the farmers feel supported by the new venture. I love this about Sirimon – and it’s evident as Alice walks me around the factory that as an employee she is proud to be part of this new start up. From the laboratory where milk testing is done, we walk into the beating heart of the operation – an enormous airy room with high ceilings and big, shiny machinery (mostly pasteurisers and separators as well as long oval vats with steam jackets, where the cheese is mixed with rennet starters).
A small but focussed team works on the cheeses. It’s a physically demanding job with some of the cheesemakers elbow deep in whey and curds as they turn and cut it into blocks, mix it with salt and turn it again. Further on, there’s steam rising from a cylindrical apparatus where two male cheesemakers stretch the mozzarella, using all their strength to lift a pole that holds tens of kilos of the shiny white cheese up onto their shoulders, allowing it to slowly stretch with gravity. Then we’re on to the press, where the cheeses are pressed before being cut and packaged. It’s all so industrial yet so accessible, so busy and yet so focussed and quiet. There’s no shouting here – it’s got an almost zen like atmosphere of calm, which makes me feel like the cheese itself will be imbued with a kind of tranquillity.
For my recipe, I chose to use Sirimon’s Everyday cheese which I think is a great go-to for families because it’s got great flavour and is very versatile. My take on Mac n’ Cheese hides a load of veggies making it a good option for little eaters who won’t notice all the delicious nutrients hidden within this yummy dish!
The Best Mac and Cheese
- 1 1/2 cup uncooked pasta (macaroni, penne, spirals etc)
- 400g cauliflower (approx half a small cauliflower)
- 2 medium courgettes
- 2 tbsp (30g) butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 2 rashers Highland Castle Farms streaky bacon, diced
- 1 cup Bio milk
- 1 cup grated Everyday Sirimon cheese
- Cook the pasta according to the packet directions, drain and set aside.
- Roughly chop the cauliflower and courgettes then steam until tender. While this is cooking, start on the white sauce.
- Heat butter in a saucepan then add onion and bacon and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the flour and cook for around 2min while stirring.
- Gradually add the milk (I find if you preheat the milk first you will get a smoother sauce which thickens much more quickly).
- Bring the sauce to the boil then remove from heat. At this point you should have quite a thick but smooth sauce. Stir in 3/4 of the grated cheese.
- Once the cauliflower and courgettes are tender, drain then mash or puree.
- Stir the vegetable mix into your cheese sauce then combine with the pasta.
- Pour the pasta and sauce mixture into a greased ovenproof dish. You can top with the remaining grated cheese.
- Bake for around 20 mins at 180 degrees celsius. Enjoy!