A visit from Rosanna Head

We had the privileged of meeting Rosanna Head from South East London Blog ( last October. Rosanna is passionate about ‘Community’ not only in her native SE London, but further afield (when permitted to explore!).

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.” Coretta Scott King.

The quote above appears on Rosanna’s website which is a lovely reminder about the the value of support and kindness in our communities which, these days, has never been more important.

Here’s Rosanna’s report…

Weekend trip to Cheddar to visit Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

The reason for the visit was to meet the couple behind the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, a family run business in Cheddar. As the editor of south east London blog I am passionate about local, small and artisan businesses and as many of you know, I like to get under the skin of a brand and meet the people who make the magic happen. I was delighted to be invited to interview John and Katherine Spencer, a passionate pair with a lot of knowledge in the time honoured tradition of purveying fine genuine farmhouse cheddar cheese, and proud owners of a cheese shop that has been continuously family run for generations.

The Cheddar Cheese Gorge Company is the only producer of cheddar cheese in the village of Cheddar, who use traditional methods to make cheese. They recently opened up the visitor centre post Covid-19, by appointment only, and the newly designed shop and tasting bar is open and has an improved one-way layout. It’s open from 10am every day and we were really lucky to watch the traditional cheese making process in person and get to taste some cheddar.

We held the interview in one of the store houses, a little chilly, but enamoured to be among the big cheeses that day (excuse the pun!) We talk about how this home grown company has gone from strength to strength, even through Covid-19, how the cheese gets produced and graded, the power of the humid limestone caves in Cheddar Gorge in creating the optimal flavour of cheddar and their plans for the future, oh, and a slightly cheesy love story about how they met 🙂

Rosanna Head, Editor Interviews John and Katherine Spencer, Cheddar Cheese Gorge Company.

The Cheddar

The cheese they produce, a whole cheese, as you can see in the background of the video, weighs around 26Kg and is matured for up to 24 months in its closely monitored maturing stores. Generally, the older the cheese, the stronger the flavour. The ‘mellow’ cheddars are around six months old. The oldest, ‘vintage’ cheddar is usually around two years old.

After receiving outstanding feedback and popularity for the ‘Isolation Bundles’ during the UK lockdown, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is launching two brand-new ‘Cheese Your Own’ bundles (from £25) for all cheese lovers. A great choice of traditional British cheeses are available, all very different from one another, yet each delicious in their own right. Choose from:

  • Mellow Cheddar – six months old; creamy in texture with a gentle yet still distinctive traditional cheddar taste.
  • Extra Mature – is around 15 months old so this cheddar is much stronger in taste. It’s harder in texture too, as expected from a long-matured traditional cheddar.
  • Vintage – the oldest cheddar – robust and mighty strong. Matured for more than two years, with a harder, drier texture not dissimilar to Italian Parmesan style cheese. This was my favourite!
  • Cave Matured Cheddar is one of a kind – it’s around 12 months old having been matured in the natural caves in Cheddar Gorge. Smooth, creamy yet complex. This in an interesting cheddar and very different from the others in the range which are matured in its own cheese stores.

Alternatively, you can pick from their natural smoked or other flavoured cheeses, flavoured with quality ingredients such as herbs, cider or port (no preservatives or colours used) and matured for five to six months. Allowing the curds and flavours to mature together over time produces a complimentary harmony of flavours rather than a sharp, acidic crash which often happens when ready-to-eat cheddar cheese is blended with flavours and repressed.

You can purchase these bundles whilst visiting the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company’s newly redesigned shop, as well as trying the cheeses at the tasting bar before you choose. Also, whilst there, customers can enjoy its visitor centre which combines a viewing gallery where visitors can watch the cheesemaker ‘in action’ throughout the day plus get a glimpse into one of its Maturing Stores too. A 20-minute film also shows the whole process from start to finish. It’s a great day out for kids and the whole family.

To purchase the ‘Cheese Your Own’ Bundles online for a swift home delivery, please visit https://www.cheddaronline.co.uk/ . To book a visit to watch them make their famous cheese, call 01934 742810 during office hours.

For daily updates & cheese inspiration, follow The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company on social media: Twitter @CheddarCheeseCo, Instagram @cheddargorgecheeseco and Facebook @cheddargorgecheesecompany.

Awards

‘Best Cheddar’ at the British Cheese Awards in 2013 and the ‘Champion Cheese’ at the Devon County Show in 2017, in 2018 they won another Gold at The British Cheese Awards and The Great British Food Awards 2019 selected The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company’s Vintage cheddar as being Highly Commended by, none-other, Marcus Wearing!

Getting There

Cheddar is about 3.5 hours from south east London, a nice drive and a great spot to get away for the weekend.


The Surrounding Area

Cheddar Gorge – Walking routes – Visit National Trust for walks and more info.

Ebbor Gorge – Walking routes, great views of Cheddar and Glastonbury Tor – this is the walk we did. It took about three hours, moderate and up hill a good part of the way. The views at the top were well worth the hike. Find out more on the walk we did here at Discovering Britain.

Glastonbury Town – 20 minutes drive from Cheddar, we didn’t visit this time but plan to return again soon.

Wells Historic Town and Cathedral – A quaint little market town with cathedral and palace gardens. A splattering of lovely boutique shops and cafes, the square is a great spot to watch the world go by. We enjoyed coffee and a delicious cinnamon swirl in Loaf Bakehouse. A funky relaxing space, where the bake the cakes on site – delicious!

Wookey Hole – we stayed in a basic hotel here. This village is aimed to cater mostly for families with children, with a couple of pubs and places to eat and some tourist attractions guaranteed to while away the day with the kids. Check out the Wookey Hole Caves and more here.

For more info on the area why not check out the Visit Somerset website, jam packed with info and ideas.

 

Signs of Spring Love and Welsh Rarebit – James Martin Style!

Happy 2021!

Lockdown number 3 arrived and whilst unlike LD1 the days may feel short, dark, and cold, there are still many ways to brighten up these times! Here are a few of our favourite uplifting thoughts to get you through these difficult times …

1. The snowdrops are out; Spring is on it’s way.
2.  10 million people in the UK have had their first COVID vaccination.
3.  Unlike LD1, this time we’ve continued to produce our cheese.
4.  We are preparing for the reopening of our Shop and Visitor Centre in Cheddar – hopefully this Spring/Summer. And we cannot wait to welcome you all back.
5. We have a special Welsh Rarebit Recipe for the perfect LOCKDOWN LUNCH – James Martin style!

 

Click here for the full story

 

 

A Tasty Slice of English Heritage

The Smart Leisure Guide

Vivien Devlin  member of the British Guild of Travel Writers

 

Vivien is a beautiful writer of SMART leisure guides. Extremely thorough in her research you can be certain of an honest opinion with accurate recommendations. We are then extremely proud to have been scrutinised by Vivien and delighted to be included in her ‘Smart Guide’  – she has magically produced an article which is both interesting, historical and enticing! If only we had her talent.

Why is hers a SMART Leisure Guide?

She plans to offer fabulous, fun and unusual ideas to liven up weekends and time off from work: smart as in a wise move such as good value; smart as in sassy and stylish;  smart as in being good to yourself, keeping fit and healthy; smart as in art and culture.

Through her regular blogs, she recommends hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs, art galleries, beauty salons and spas,  city walks, countryside rambles,  shares her love of books,  theatre, music,  along with little titbits on what to do and where to go in your leisure time.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows…”

―William Henry Davies

So, with that thought in mind, read on.. CLICK HERE

 

Cheese Glorious Cheese!

 

Here’s our latest news update. Read on to to discover our latest team news, our Christmas gift ideas plus a spooky Halloween biscuit recipe.

As half term ends and the nights draw in things quieten down in Cheddar Gorge. Our shop will remain open every day from 10am but will close at 4pm from November 1st. Our Visitor Centre will close then too but this area will be invaluable extra space for us to pack up and dispatch our online orders. In addition to making our shop COVID safe this year we have changed the staff working and relaxing areas to ensure we can all keep a safe distance from each other too.

Read our newsletter?  CLICK HERE 

Enjoy!

The Ultimate Cheese Board

We were honoured to be asked to supply some of our cheese to Binita Shah, the award winning Food, Travel & Wildlife Conservation writer.

Binny knows her stuff! A serial wanderluster (her own words) she is a vastly experienced traveller and explorer of world cultures and food. She is one of those gentle souls who thinks deeply about things, and we were lucky enough to have met her a few years ago when she visited us in Cheddar.

Her travels have taken her around the globe where she likes nothing more than to taste the local food and drinks. She catalogues her travels in detail reporting her experiences in her unique way – always a pleasure to read. Her travels have been limited recently, for obvious reasons and so she has been working on other things, drawing on her experiences and recommendations – pre pandemic.

In preparation for Christmas she has just written about her ULTIMATE CHEESE board which features our cheddar! And we couldn’t be more proud.

Click on the image below to read about Binny’s cheeseboard and to find out more about her, her travels and beautiful writing.

My Ultimate Cheese Board

 

 

Our Story – Instagram Live

We were honoured to be invited by Ruth Macyntyre to feature on her special Instagram Live session on Wednesday June 17th 2020!

Ruth runs a wonderful business called Ruth’s Little Kitchen which not only runs live cookery lessons from her own kitchen at home, but also champions and supports local producers – especially traditional cheesemakers! Many of us have been devastated by the Coronavirus Pandemic – like so many businesses over the past 3 months.

We’ve never done anything like this before and have been heartened by the response to this little film. She asked us to tell our story, give a little tour of our site including our Dairy, Maturing Store and our Shop! It was terrifying but fun and can’t thank Ruth enough for featuring us.

Here’s the link to the film: Watch it here 

And please do have a look at Ruth’s Little Kitchen  – she is a lovely lady who’s enthusiasm is infectious!

Thank you Ruth.

 

Coronavirus – how our focus had to change overnight

We normally make cheese 7 days a week and our Shop and Visitor Centre in Cheddar is normally open 362 days of the year.

Sadly, on March 24th, we stopped making our famous cheese and closed our Shop and Visitor Centre in Cheddar Gorge.

However… to our surprise and delight, within 24 hours the demand for our cheese online increased.  We needed to be able to respond to demand (safely of course) to be flexible and ready to adapt to a new focus in the business.

How could we optimise sales in order to ensure our cheeses, many of which were reaching full maturity could be eaten up?

Well, we got creative!

  •  We were the first to develop ‘Isolation Packs’ which were bundles of  our products grouped together and sold at a special (reduced) price.

  • We sourced special boxes into which we could send out these bundles ensuring that the cheese remained in tip top condition throughout its journey.

  •  We ensured we could cushion, protect, insulate and chill our cheese in transit using either reusable (ice packs), biodegradable (cushions) or compostable (starch ‘peanuts’) packaging.

  • Importantly we offered a reliable and swift  ‘next day’ delivery service. We subsidise the cost of this delivery so that we deliver up to 20Kg of products ‘next day’ to anywhere in mainland UK for just £4.95.

  • We had to fast track our IT skills to manage the stock available for sale on our website! We had to make sure we kept availability ‘live’ and responsive.

We’ve had lots of interest from journalists about how we reacted and coped with the shock to the business of Lockdown; all wanted to know how did it affected us and what would happen to our unsold cheese?

We’ve included a copy of an interview we did with Sarah Bence of Fodors Travel (https://www.fodors.com/) below. Her main interest was related to how Lockdown affected travel and tourism for us. In addition to the lack of Visitors, our biggest concern was the future of our cheese the sales of which had  disappeared overnight.

Copy of interview follows:
Do you have a theory why the orders have increased? 

I think we’ve got the balance right, offering a nice selection of good quality, fine tasting, pretty unique things, at a good price. We can deliver these ‘next day’ and our response & reaction to this sad situation has been rapid. We offer exceptional customer service (although I say so myself), and this has been endorsed by the feedback from our customers – which has been overwhelming!

The fact that people / families are now restricted at home means they have been able to take advantage of mail order services. I suspect they have had more time to search the internet for more unusual things perhaps. Maybe they’ve had time to look for top review products? We’ve won many awards for our cheese and received such lovely reviews on Google, our website, Amazon, Trip Advisor etc. that I’m sure these have helped now that people have time to be a little more discerning? I hope this is so anyway!

Can you please tell me a bit about the typical cheddar cheese aging process in the caves, and how that is being continued and monitored right now by your staff under current conditions?

A natural cave is a unique and incredible environment. The constant temperature and humidity provide perfect conditions in which to mature traditional, raw milk cheddar cheese.  For hundreds of years, these conditions provided Nature’s own larder.

Starting off as an experiment back in 2006, this Cave Matured Cheddar has been a resounding success. We were the first in living memory to return cheddar to the famous natural caves and have been delighted by the resulting cheese quality. Both a science and an art, traditional cheddar has seen a revival in popularity – for all the producers.  Back then in 2006, we took a step into the unknown!

Despite lockdown, we are still caring for our cheeses in the Caves, of course. They need inspecting and turning regularly. Today for example John the MD is up there turning 120 cheese!

What makes Gough’s Cave and the other caves perfect for aging cheddar cheese?

The wonderful thing about the cave environment within Cheddar Caves is that the conditions are constant. The temperature is around 12’C and the relative humidity 95%+ which doesn’t change during the day or night or even throughout the seasons. So, our cloth-bound cheeses which are matured in the Caves dry-out less; the moisture content is a critical component that defines the chemistry within the cheese. This combined with the temperature in the cave (which is 2 degrees higher than our own maturing stores) allows different cultures and enzymes to dominate which produce a unique more complex flavour, also influenced by the natural yeasts and moulds present within the caves.

How long has Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company been operating?

We took over the assets of this failing business in 2003, when we decided we wanted to make our own cheese rather than work for other large-scale cheese producers. We spent a long time looking for an opportunity. When my husband John came home one day back in 2003 and told me a ‘cheesemaking’ business was for sale in Cheddar – he couldn’t hide the sparkle in his eye at the thought of restoring and resurrecting authentic traditional cheddar cheese, in the village of Cheddar itself!

We had both worked in the Dairy Industry (60 years of experience between us) and had a good combination of skills; John had run his own Continental Cheese importing businesses having founded Eurilait – now a multi-million pound cheese cutting importer supplying most of the supermarkets in the UK. He has the business mind and is really good at spotting an opportunity and rolling up his sleeves and getting on with it.  My background was setting up quality systems within the food industry. Having worked previously for some of the biggest UK Dairy Companies I had gained valuable experience and training. For me it’s all about the quality – the milk, the equipment but most of all THE STAFF. Without our wonderful team we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Can you tell me at all about the history of cheddar cheese within Cheddar Gorge?

Actually, we don’t know too many facts about this. We know lots about the history of Cheddar Cheese itself, but apart from there being quite a few cheese shops in Cheddar, we are the only producers of cheddar in Cheddar.

There are many stories (some more believable than others) about how cheddar cheese originally came into being. There’s the one about the milkmaid who left a bucket of milk accidentally in the Cheddar Caves. She allegedly came back to find it had transformed into something more interesting! What is certain is that cheesemaking goes as far back as the Ancient Egyptians.

Some key facts, however, are not in doubt. The land around the village of Cheddar has been at the centre of England’s dairy industry since at least the 15th Century, with the earliest references to cheddar cheese dating from 1170.

With the absence of refrigeration or adequate transport, the problem of what to do with surplus milk was solved by turning it into cheese. Cheesemakers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd to squeeze out the moisture, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheesemaking along with other refinements was perfected in the Cheddar area, and so the first authentic Cheddar Cheese was born. Many farms in the area would have made their own cheese. This was often work undertaken by the women and very much a hands-on, laborious process. Cheeses were much bigger then too!

How does your company fit within this history? For instance – if there is a recipe or method for making cheddar cheese that has been passed down.

There isn’t a protected recipe as such, other than cheddar must be made from cow’s milk. We have experimented, tweaked and perfected our own recipe and methods over the years. The composition of the milk and the recipe must be in perfect harmony. Over the years we have adjusted the recipe according to the composition of the raw milk taken from the one local farm we work with.  What we are passing on and keeping alive are the skills and knowledge of traditional cheddar making. We have trained all our three cheese makers and they have each produced Gold Medal winning cheddar at major shows.

Really all I can say is that we will continue to respond and send out all the orders we receive during this difficult time and we are so grateful for them.  John and I and a handful of staff are in work every day doing just that. We don’t know how long the increased demand will last, but as long as it does and as long as we and our staff are well enough to do so, we will continue.

Most importantly, we have two years’ worth of hand-made, cloth-bound, raw milk, award winning cheddar in our maturing stores – and it needs to be eaten up!

Sarah Bence’s interview with Katherine Spencer, Technical Manager at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. for Fodors Travel Guide. April 6th 2020.

Addendum

In addition to Sarah Bence’s article,  Zoe Wilson has done a feature on us in Enjoy-it.co.uk, Ruth Macintyre of  Ruth’s Little Kitchen did a live cooking  demo using our Extra Mature Mature Cheddar her daily Instagram ‘live’, plus House of Coco, Glamour Magazine, and London On The Inside have all written about us during Lockdown! And we must thank freelance writers Lauren Goodwin-Grafton who included us in The Mirror on Sunday and Margaret Hussey of The Daily Express too! Last but not least we must thank Dimitra and Rachel at SirenComms who’s suppport and encouragement throughout this anxious time has been phenomenal. Like our cheese, we’re not hi-tech and are slow to mature! With the ever present support of Siren Comms they’ve given us the strength and belief in ourselves to be dynamic, brave and very quick to react to this worrying situation. 

The Health Benefits of Eating Cheese

Interesting piece by @petabee1 in @thetimes yesterday. Confirming all we believe about the health benefits of eating cheese; good source of calcium & magnesium, vitamins A, B2 and B12 & protein.

In the past, the concerns of eating cheese were often related to its fat content, but here, The Times journalist, Peta Bee outlines recent research about the different types of saturated fats and that those in cheese have a preventative role warding off conditions typically associated with obesity such as type 2 diabetes. Also a compound called spermidine (found in aged cheeses such as traditional cheddar) have been proved to contribute towards extending life and preventing liver cancer.

Long matured cheeses contain a range of beneficial bacteria which boost our gut microbiome helping immunity to infection and contributes to “all-round good health”. (Benefits are greater if that cheese is made from raw milk of course).

Look, we would say this wouldn’t we? And we do, but we never claim anything we can’t prove or cross reference.

Taking the time to ‘know’ our milk, ‘connect’ with our staff, research, experiment, live and breathe traditional cheddar means we do all we can to make, care for & sell excellent quality cheddar. Apart from winning awards for the taste of our cheese (which we are terribly proud of) articles like this confirm all we believe in; cheese is good for you too. Science is science- we’re mammals after all, and nature determines mammals’ first food is milk. Preserving whole milk in the form of cheese preserves most of the natural constituents of milk for us to eat ‘later’. Thanks @petabee1 for crystallising so much research in this reassuring and interesting article.

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