6 of the best cheesemakers in North Wales
PUBLISHED: 17:30 17 May 2016
A bunch of passionate and determined producers are leading a renaissance in cheesemaking in North Wales. Kevin McGrother went to meet some of them
Educating our palates
Menai Jones is a full-time history teacher who spends her weekends, evenings and holidays producing award-winning cheese.
‘I love both careers,’ she explains, adding that as farming is a seven-day commitment, she is doing no more than her dairy farmer husband.
Like many artisan cheese makers, Menai started producing cheese as a result of falling milk prices.
‘It started as a bit of a hobby but has become a bigger commitment as I’ve got better at it.’
Evidence of that improvement came last year when her Anglesey Blue received not only a Silver award at the British Cheese Awards but a Gold star from the Guild of Fine Food.
‘The previous year, the cheese had been judged Supreme Champion at the Royal Welsh Show so getting that objective endorsement gave me the confidence to put it forward for more awards,’ Menai said.
As well as the blue cheese, Menai also produces a farmhouse cheddar and a soft cheese, which for a very short time each year, also includes a version with samphire. ‘Samphire can be found on the local beaches in May and June so we go down and collect what we can and add it to the cheese. Visually its very appealing and local chefs then like to use it with their fish dishes.’
Another variation on one of her cheeses came about when her eldest daughter, Elin opened a delicatessen in Cardiff. ‘She smokes the cheddar and sells it under the name The A470, as it is produced in the North in Anglesey before travelling down the A470 to the South and smoked in Cardiff.’
Menai’s other cheeses are taken by distributors and can be found in specialist stores and restaurants, with Menai also continuing to support and sell at her local farmers’ market.
Menai Jones, Caws Rhyd Y Delyn, Fawr, Rhoscefnhir, LL75 8YY, 01248 450229 firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Conwy Valley, surrounded by the stunning scenery of Snowdonia, is the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, an award-winning foodie destination. Offering everything from wine tastings, supper clubs and cookery courses, Bodnant also has its butchery, bakery and a dairy where it has created a range of cheeses.
The team uses local pasteurised Fresian cow milk to create its ‘Aber’ (Welsh for ‘Estuary’) range of traditional, cloth-bound farmhouse cheeses - Aberwen (White), Abergoch (Red) and Abermwg (Smoked). A Caerphilly, made to the original old recipe is the latest addition to the range and won Bronze at last year’s International Cheese Awards. The Bodnant team also produces a handmade Welsh Salted Butter. All of its products are available in the Centre’s shop.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, Conwy, LL28 5RP 01492 651936 email@example.com www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk
Goats and saints
Nigel Jefferies took up cheesemaking 10 years ago to maximise the return from the 35-acre Anglesey smallholding he and his wife Rhian had taken over from Rhian’s parents.
He decided to focus on goats’ cheese but from the outset wanted to set himself apart from other producers. ‘The trend was for log-shaped cheese but I was keen to experiment and come up with something a bit different, hopefully to appeal to a younger market.’
His experiments resulted in Peli Pabo, small ¾” balls of incredibly soft, fresh cheese which are sold in jars of oil, some flavoured. The name references one of the island’s saints and was chosen quite deliberately.
‘Our cheeses all have very Welsh names but they are names that are easily pronounceable by the English too,’ says Nigel, being adding in hushed tones that he himself was born and spent the first three years of his life in England.
‘The cheese only has a very short shelf life but it’s incredibly popular with chefs and the wider public.’
Nigel’s cheeses, which also include a camembert style cheese, Mon Wen or White Anglesey, are sold locally on the island and further afield, from South Wales to Cheshire.
Nigel Jefferies, Cors yr Odyn, Anglesey, LL70 9DX, 01248 410372 firstname.lastname@example.org
Small but perfectly formed
Another beneficiary of Anglesey’s Food Technology Centre is Jo Smith from Flintshire, founder of the Little Welsh Cheese Company. For the last two years Jo has been making regular trips to Anglesey to perfect her Welsh Cheddar and Gouda recipes.
Driven by a passion to create great, local food and having to overcome a struggle to find a farmer willing to supply milk in small quantities, Jo is now happy with her cheeses. Handmade, using traditional methods, and suitable for vegetarians, Jo uses cows’ milk from a farm at Treuddyn. Maturing for up to 24 months, the Welsh Cheddar develops its distinctive and complex flavours and textures in the cheese cave constructed underground at Hope Mountain where Jo runs a B&B, welcoming visitors from around the world. The cheddar can mature for anything up to 24 months, while the gouda has a much shorter maturation time.
A smoked version of the Welsh Cheddar is also being developed, with Jo using oak chips to smoke the cheese at Hope Mountain. Visitors to her B&B are eager samplers and have been enjoying all Jo’s cheeses as part of their visit before taking them away, helping to spread the message and produce of the Little Welsh Cheese Company around the world.
The Little Welsh Cheese Company, Hope Mountain Bed and Breakfast, Ffynnon-y-Garreg, LL11 5EY, 01978 769058 www.hopemountainbedandbreakfast.co.uk
From Llandudno with love
Like Menai, Jackie Whittaker is a cheesemaker who combines her work with a second career in education. Her work with entrepreneurial leaders at the University of Bangor has undoubtedly helped her to develop her Castell Gwyn Cheese business, but it was a short course in cheesemaking two years ago which persuaded her to take the plunge.
‘I went along to a three-day course at Anglesey’s Food Technology Centre and fell in love! I’d always wanted to develop and take a product to market and that course made me realise that I wanted that product to be cheese.’
Jackie has come a long way in a short time, thanks in part to a continuing relationship with the Food Technology Centre. ‘It’s a fantastic facility which includes a fully equipped dairy that can be hired by the day.’ Travelling from her home in Llandudno and using the dairy for just a few days a month has allowed Jackie to develop and refine her now award-winning artisan camembert cheese.
‘I source local milk, go into the dairy and create 350 handmade cheeses in each production run.’ The pasteurised, cows’ milk cheese is proving very popular with the public, chefs and within the cheese industry, winning as it did last year a Silver award at the International Cheese Awards.
Three versions of the cheese are available – Morwenna, St. Tudno (with garlic and sea salt) and Dwynwen (with chilli flakes, mustard seeds and peppercorns).
Currently available locally – Jackie does the deliveries herself, including to Llandrillo’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Tyddyn Llan – but an online store is currently being developed.
Castell Gwyn Cheese, 1 Bryn Y Fedwen, Llandudno, LL30 1PL www.castellgwyn.com
Linda Lewis-Williams is responsible for new product development at South Caernarfon Creameries, a Pwllheli-based co-operative owned by its Welsh dairy farmer members. But sometimes you need to look back in time to create ideas for the future, and so it was with the development of the co-operative’s Welsh Slate Cavern Aged Cheddar.
‘I was keen to create a product that reflected the provenance of the area. Cheese has been matured in caves for centuries so I wanted to explore the possibility of maturing our cheese in one of the area’s historic slate caverns,’ said Linda.
Enquiries began, leading to a partnership with Llechwedd Slate Caverns. Once produced at the co-operative’s creamery, the cheese is transferred to the caverns and begins its 500ft descent to the maturing shelves. Initially, this descent made use of the caverns’ train but since that stopped working the transportation has to be completed on foot.
‘When we tried the cheese after a month in the caverns there was no discernible difference to its taste,’ says Linda. But undeterred, the maturing trial continued and little by little significant differences were detected. ‘We’ve found that three months is the optimum time for the cheese to be left. Any less and it’s not quite how we want it, any longer and there’s no further difference. The caverns really help to create a depth of flavour and give the cheese a closer texture.’
There is no shortage of space – three caverns and 25 miles of underground tunnel – for further expansion of this uniquely Welsh cheese store, which visitors to the Caverns can see as part of organised tours. And thanks to a distribution and retail deal with Sainsbury’s, it is likely that more and more Cavern Aged Cheddar will be finding its way to the supermarket shelves.
As well as expanding underground, the co-operative is opening a new dairy on its existing site and looks forward to expanding its 85-strong workforce. The cheese maturers working deep underground at Llechwedd might suggest that an advert for a Cavern Train Restorer be top of the list.
South Caernarfon Creameries Ltd, Rhydygwystl, Chwilog, Pwllheli, LL53 6SB 01766 810251 email@example.com www.sccwales.co.uk