What a year! 2020.
As autumn draws on, here is a round up of our extraordinary year of two extremes. Concentrating on the positives, here’s our update.
Click HERE to catch up
Take great care everyone as we approach the cooler months ahead.
Take great care everyone as we approach the cooler months ahead.
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.
And please do have a look at Ruth’s Little Kitchen – she is a lovely lady who’s enthusiasm is infectious!
Thank you Ruth.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
We’re delighted to announce that our Mellow Cheddar won a Gold Medal at this years Global Cheese Awards held at the Frome Cheese and Agricultural Show on September 14th.
It’s fair to say that our Vintage and Cave Matured Cheddars are at the top of our awards leader board – these cloth-bound, long-matured cheddars are the epitome of traditional cheddar. Their complex depth of flavour can only be reached with time. Time to make it by hand, time to press it, time to dress it and time to mature it. Up to 24 months in fact – a long time to care for these beauties; to monitor the temperature and humidity of the conditioning rooms, time to inspect, turn and keep clean. Only with this attention to detail can we ever hope to produce award winning traditional cheddars. But awards we do win, and for these we are very proud. Our Vintage and Cave Matured did win awards here too – Silver Medals for each.
However to win a Gold for our Mellow is quite something. More commonly known as ‘Mild’ or ‘Medium’ cheddar, this cheese is popular with those who prefer to avoid the very strong ‘itchy roof of the mouth’ stuff. ‘Mellow’ is our youngest cheese – matured for around 5 months. It’s quite hard to produce a young cheese with a great taste, but this mellow cheese has all the characteristics of traditional cheddar but is a ‘gentler version’! A soft rind, creamy texture with a delicate, savoury cheddar taste. It’s versatile, has excellent melting qualities and children love it (an excellent cheese with which to introduce children to traditional cheddar)
Mild it is not, but mellow and moreish it is.
Pie Fidelity by Pete Brown. IN DEFENCE OF BRITISH FOOD
By chance we happened upon this book – then were shocked and elated to read all about us on page 64!
Pete Brown, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster, Beer Expert and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme has spent a few years researching some classic British foods, anonymously roaming the Country finding out for himself, the best, typically British foods.
This is a witty book, emotional at times, mostly spot on. A lovely read. He explores our equivalent of ‘street food’, considered elsewhere in the world ‘exciting’ ‘authentic’ and ‘a must’ wherever you travel. Somehow though, us Brits have a strange relationship with food, we don’t shout about it as others do, but are nevertheless, underneath it all, proud and comforted by some of our special, homegrown foods.
He starts out in this book having the most memorable of special meals (with his future wife); Pork Pie on a bed of Mushy Peas. When you finish the chapter, your mouth will be watering and all you can think about is shopping for the perfect Pork Pie and a tin of mushy peas!
We must mention his chapter on ‘A Cheese Sandwich’ and his quest for Cheddar Cheese. Unbeknownst to us he visited, watched us make it, tasted it, chatted to our staff and has now written about it appealingly in this book.
He totally gets what we’re all about and writes beautifully, better than anyone has (including us) about what we’re trying to do in the Village of Cheddar, the home of Cheddar Cheese – celebrating and preserving the genuine, traditional, authentic product.
‘the only cheese-maker in the world that makes Cheddar cheese in Cheddar and matures some of it in the caves of Cheddar Gorge’
‘It’s a business that was in seemingly terminal decline when John and Katherine Spencer took it over in 2003, deciding that there might be a market for Cheddar made in its rightful location using the traditional process and ingredients. They source all their milk from one local farm and stick to the traditional, back-breaking tradition of cheddaring. This is it: the only place in Cheddar that doesn’t just sell cheese but celebrates it.’
Their shop sells ‘the perfect present for the cheese lover in your life’
‘There are two big tasting counters staffed by people who may well think of Cheddar as ‘normal cheese’ but can tell you anything you want to know about it.’
‘there are two versions of the mature cheese. One was matured in Gough’s Cave, the star of the complex at the foot of the Gorge. The cave-aged cheese is softer, mellower, yet full of flavour than the one matured here’ (in our own maturing stores). I had been wondering whether my growing obsession with terroir and cave-ageing was mostly sentimental. But here’s proof that this stuff makes a real difference to the world’s favourite cheese’
Thanks Pete Brown.
You have summed it up perfectly and we couldn’t be happier you called in. Especially overjoyed that you came to these, nonpartisan conclusions.
Maybe it’s just that time of year. But it seems to me that comfort food is calling louder and clearer than at any other time. What does it mean for you? And does that change throughout the year? While you might have that pizza feeling or, that sweet desire for something (read anything!) made out of chocolate – does the season change that inner need to connect with something sweet and sticky, or even chewy and carbilicious? What about the fruit attacks or the Spring-like desire to shake off the winter stodge and embrace the love of a sparkling fresh salad?
But here, right now, with winter not yet quite done, what does comfort food really mean to you? Surely grabbing a plate or bowl of your favourite something is not just about filling up! Could it be about satisfying the senses as well as the belly?
I came home wearily the other day to find that our just about teenage daughter – not often known for a love of domestic duties – had run up a tray of fudge brownies. Just like that. Soft, meltingly chewy, gooey and above all oozing chocolate.
It was perfect comfort food and a perfect foodie moment. and made all the better for her using some serious cocoa percentage chocolate. All of which made me think; Comfort food is about satisfying senses as well as the stomach and means using quality ingredients that taste super fantastic.
Comforting as feel-good chocolate may be. What about those savoury moments? Leaving the ubiquitous pizza to one side – what about an epic mac and cheese? it’s not just that it is relatively straightforward and easy to make, but it is heartwarmingly, meltingly good. And from the heart, we can tell you, that if you skimp on the quality of the cheddar you are missing out!
Plastic supermarket cheddar might well melt just as easily – but a seriously good cheddar such as our classic Vintage will melt your heart. Not only do you need less cheese – but it takes your humble mac n cheese into the taste stratosphere – seriously satisfying those senses.
Then again – who said comfort food had to be sweet or heavy? Spring, surely can’t be far away now and then we’ll be onto a different form of craving. Yes, those tantalising tingling salads, fruit or otherwise will be calling out. Fresh and light, zingy and colourful. Cleansing us inside and out.
Sometimes you just have to listen to your heart and give in to your cravings. So, whatever your senses are crying out for this weekend – why not give into them – with an extra bit of love and taste gratification?
There didn’t seem to be a lot of Christmas cake around the table this year. Personally, I didn’t miss it but then I have to confess that I never really liked it that much. Asking around, the consensus here is that Christmas cake, as in heavily booze-soaked fruitcake, marzipan and icing with a plastic Santa on the top and a ribbon around the side is, well, a little bit passé.
That may not be the case for everybody, but the fact is, tastes and fashions do change . Truth is there wasn’t even any room for Christmas pudding around our table this year, and nobody really seemed that bothered.
It’s not just the poor old Christmas cake that is getting short shrift. Weddings are getting a makeover too. There’s been a move away from the traditional wedding venue as in Registry offices and churches. Now couples are tying the knot throwing themselves out of planes (with parachutes), underwater, and on any beach they can find.
The traditional wedding cake has also been taking a battering (not deep fried, though someone must have tried at some point). There is still however demand for something celebratory on special occasion. And a certain type of cheese cake is standing up to be counted. This is not the baked or frozen cheese cake either but a genuine tiered cake. As in ascending layers of delicious cheeses, the foundation of which is most often a whopping great disc of fabulous cheddar.
And up we go with a Shropshire Blue perhaps or a Stilton. There are Bries and Cornish Yarg, small wheels of Camembert and basically anything that is round, well cheesy (some are even interspersed with pork pies!)
And it’s not just weddings. In fact, Cheese Cakes are becoming a hit wherever hungry and thirsty people want a celebration. Be it birthday, anniversary, graduation, or reunion and want to make a statement and feed a whole bunch of merry guests. Who, with all that celebrating might not just fancy fruitcake. And what really goes better with wine, cider or beer than gorgeous cheese, carved up with crackers, pickles and whatever else you fancy?
Of course, we are biased. We’re delighted too. It’s a celebration of great cheese and you can start with us, and we’ll talk you through the process and deliver the whole thing to your door. We make the best cheddar in the world and that gets anyone’s cheese cake off to a flying start and a solid foundation . The rest is entirely up to you. But it’s good to know that it is entirely possible these days to have your cake and eat it. Especially with crackers and pickles, not to mention a little glass of something.
With the cheese season well and truly underway, our thoughts turn to the beautiful meals, banquets and super snacks we will be serving and hopefully enjoying through the dark nights and long festive evenings.
Matching and pairing your cheese with a perfectly balanced accompanying drink not only makes sense, but it can also actually enhance the experience and taste of both beverage and of course, your delicious cheese.
Pairing is not just about wine – the range of craft beers and ciders on the market mean that there is something out there to suit every taste. Luckily the same few wise guidelines (and let’s be honest – no two palates are the same) apply to wine, cider as well as beer.
And if it’s true ‘terroir’ you are chasing, there is a very good reason both cider and Cheddar come from Somerset – apple trees and rich pasture both like rain! And if it is a perfect accompaniment you are seeking, then cheddars true bedfellow might just be cider.
Two basic tips seem to help when matching beverage and cheese.
Tip number one is that bold wines, beers and ciders are a good choice with aged cheese such as our Mature and Vintage Cheddars. Big bold wines steeped in tannins like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec for example. Cider wise, look for dryer styles, even oak aged ciders, for example, will stand up well to stronger flavoured Cheddars. Beer lovers – look to fresh and hoppy IPA’s or a full-bodied Belgian style beer.
Our Cave Matured has softer notes but still brings big flavours. You can pair this stunning Cheddar with reds that are a little less robust. Pinot Noir is an excellent example. Chardonnay’s oaked or otherwise can make a good bedfellow. Cider wise, look for big apple flavours – medium dry. Lighter beers, pale lagers or wheat beers make perfect sense.
Tip number two is that funkier cheeses go very well with sweeter drinks. Oak Smoked, (albeit not funky!) sings with a delicate smoky sweetness and here you can have a lot of fun making your match work. Shiraz or a slightly sweeter red is a lovely starting point. Merlot also works well. Darker beers, rich and sticky start to make sense and crisper sweeter ciders big and heavy with apples are just perfect.
This is where Port comes into its own, along with sweeter wines and ciders – there are some lovely rich fermented ciders that are a match for Port. Pilton’s Fire and Ice range proved really popular when we had a recent tasting here in the shop.
Stouts and rich dark beers are a perfect foil for a salty creamy blue. Our Natural Blue Cheddar fits in here perfectly or, why not make the most of our Especially Strong? It’s about as Funky as a Cheddar gets and is definitely robust.
When it comes down to it, pairing is a matter of personal taste. If you really wanted one drink that would go with just about anything, you might be pleased to note that Champagne is that drink! And we’ll definitely drink to that.