Putting a Spring in Our Step

.Spring in Cheddar Gorge

The weather is milder – well sometimes! and the crocuses are out. In Cheddar Gorge there is a hopeful note of Spring in the air. It may be something to do with the sap rising but we are embracing the need to get out and about.

Bitton Women’s Institute

It started on Monday night at Bitton Women’s Institute. Head honcho John Spencer (what he doesn’t know about cheese isn’t worth knowing) was invited to speak to the gathering about the story behind the making of our cheese.  And speak he did, to the very attentive women of Bitton.

To be fair, we were ‘winging’ it a little. Having prepared an extensive Power Point on the subject, including some interesting hieroglyphics of Ancient Egyptians making cheese. We were somewhat caught out by the unfurling of an old school screen, for our ‘projector’.

Cheese hieroglyphics

For the best part of an hour John, bravely (it’s not like he hasn’t done it before) laid out the story of cheese and our cheddar in particular. Having taken some incisive questions on the use of Lard – which we don’t use any more (the question was ‘why not?’) and our use of vegetarian substitute Rennet. We were then inundated as the good ladies came forward to taste the cheese we had prepared.  Soon enough wedges of best cheddar, not to mention boxes of our renowned cheese straws, were changing hands. The good ladies of Bittern WI were indeed ‘our people’.

Overall Show Champion Cup

The next day saw Katherine and I, packing up for the direction of Plymouth via Exeter, where we were returning the Overall Show Champion Cup to the Royal Devon County Showground. Life must go on and even championship trophies must be returned…eventually. I wonder if we won it three times, we’d be allowed to keep it! A Cheese World Cup perhaps?

Plymouth Naval Base

After which we headed down to Plymouth Naval Base where we had been invited on board the Navy’s top frigate HMS Somerset to run a cheese tasting evening.  Impressive doesn’t start to cover it. Needless to say, the cheese went down scrumptiously well, appreciated by the officers and their Captain. By the time we left, it was dark and there was a two-hour drive back up to our corner of the Mendips. Tired but happy. It feels good to be out and about but always great to come home again.


Beating the January Blues: Part II

Frosty Country Scene Cheddar Gorge

Whether you’re of the ‘dry’ January variety or not – and we can’t be talking about the weather, there’s some comfort in this poor little month stretching towards its gloomy end.  Even if you went away for a sunny break, by now you’ll be back with the overwhelming realisation that it’s worse here at this time of year than you thought. That may well just be my gloomy disposition, but I’m putting the blame firmly on the time of the season. Already, we are counting down the days.

Granted the prospect of February approaching doesn’t fill us with warmth, happiness and optimism. Historically, it could be EVEN worse than January. Though, if you’re back on the booze, it might just not seem quite so bad. And what’s this? Cherry blossom on the trees in the Gorge! Bright yellow crocuses poking their heads through the cold ground. Daffodils in the supermarket.

Budding Flowers - Cheddar Gorge

But slowly, ungratefully through the dark mornings (how did it ever get so dark?) life goes on. We get to work, and we go home again (in the same dark) and in between things somehow get accomplished. Life moves slowly. But there is life. The Lion Rock Tea Rooms keep the fire going and the warm cheese scones coming.  The pubs are welcoming and what better respite from the cold and dark is there than a good snug?

And what of the things that we promised ourselves? Dieters, gym bunnies and yogis of the New Year, I’m talking to you!   By now, there is the chance that you just might be getting used to the ‘New You’ and that in turn might make you feel a little better.  Though don’t go forsaking cheeses whatever you do!  And conversely, if you gave up, well at least you don’t have to spend any more time with your inner Gwyneth.

Lady on the beach

Either way, the evenings are lighter, and the morning’s lashing rain aside – are brighter. That old Magnolia tree will burst into bright white-flamed life any day now and the holiday chart in the office is starting to look oversubscribed.  You beat the January Blues without even trying too hard after all. Like everything else, it’s a matter of one step at a time.

Cherry Blossom Tree - Cheddar Gorge

How to Beat the January Blues: Part I

As the New Year splutters into damp gloomy life, many of us are already dreaming of the holidays. Here in Cheddar Gorge, we are no different. Who wouldn’t swap a dull January for a place in the sun? There’s no doubt about it though, sometimes you can’t see the wood for trees. Sometimes we forget about the things around us that are the real gems.

The truth is we don’t have to travel to far off, exotic places to find adventure and discovery. Sometimes the grass around you is actually greener! And truth be told, that is what makes our cheeses rather tasty.

South West Gems

Here in the South West, right in front of our noses we are lucky enough to have a wealth of wonderful places to visit. With the Spring and Summer holidays far off on the horizon what could be a better time to rediscover some of things that are best about our amazing region?

Green Campervan

Road Trip

How about planning and setting off on a road trip?  Not the grind of the day to day commute, but a real old fashioned car journey that could rediscover some fabulous destinations. Get yourself a roadmap and plan a day of real adventure! Not that we don’t appreciate what our visitors do for us but, it’s also lovely at this time of year to have a little bit more of the place to ourselves.

Why not hit the coast or ramble over towards Glastonbury? There’s magic in the Mendips, not to mention our own Cheddar Gorge. When you really start to look, we live in an amazing area. When was the last time you popped in to see the cheese being made?

In the City

And our gems aren’t just in the countryside. From Bristol to Bath, Exeter, Wells and beyond we have unrivalled historical towns and cities that are brimming with life and culture.  It’s so easy to take for granted or even dismiss what we have on our doorstep. Treasures like the Bristol Old Vic are constantly showing world-class theatre. When was the last time you went?

When the weather is overcast, windswept and grey we are blessed with Bristol’s harbourside or the cosy tea rooms and coffee houses in Bath. What could be better than cosying up to a Country Pub log fire after a bracing walk up Brean Down or along the seafront?

South West Seafront

Beat those Blues

Even now the evenings are beginning to lengthen out. Spring is knocking on the door with snowdrops and crocuses. Our woods, hedgerows and lanes will be waking up before too long.

Beating those January blues is easy once you start to think, not in terms of an escape but real adventures close to home. Feeling blessed and lucky to live in such a beautiful area.

Woodland - Beat the January Blues

Bath Good Food Awards

We had a great night at The Bath Good Food Awards on Sunday 24th September. Sleight Farm won ‘Best Local Cheese’ and so huge Congratulations to them. Sad we didn’t win of course,  but happy to be finalists at least.

The best part of the evening was that the newest member of our Dairy team, Luke, was awarded a training bursary worth £4800.00.  He had been shortlisted and selected for interview by a panel of four formidable foodies! How he remained so calm and composed despite the testing questions we don’t know!

Amongst other things, he had to explain why he should receive this award and what he thought he could bring to our company if successful. He only started working for us this summer as a temporary cheese packer, but settled in well and worked hard. He’s now a permanent member of staff and keen to learn as much as he can about cheesemaking in general, but specifically Raw Milk Traditional Cheddar. This Bursary will allow us to send him on some expert cheesemaking courses to fast track his knowledge.

Our thanks go to Arthur David for championing this award. Well done Luke!

Luke (second from right with his wife Zara next to him) with his giant cheque at the Bath Good Food Awards!

Accompanied by John Higdon, Production Manager and Katherine Spencer from the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

The Best of British Directory

The Best of British Directory of Food Retailers

Very happy to report that we have been selected to be included in The Best of British Directory of Food Retailers.

For more information and to view this rather special list click HERE.

Remember to click on the British Food and Drink Retailers section where you’ll find us (amongst others such as … Fortnum and Mason and Harrods …… 😉

Global Cheese Awards

We had a wonderful day at The Frome Cheese Show on Saturday. It’s called Frome Cheese Show for a reason; the Global Cheese Awards are held there each year for which The Cheese Pavilion housed over 1500 cheese entries.  Apart from the competition cheese, there was lots of cheese for sale too including a cheese bar!

New for 2017 was a music stage and artisan food stalls. Live music all day was a real bonus, the highlight of which was of course THE WURZELS who never fail to entertain in their characteristic West Country style! It was great fun.

Our big news was winning THREE SILVER MEDALS for our authentic cheddar cheese.

Extra Mature (our Vintage), Medium Farmhouse Cheddar, and for the first time this year we entered the Vegetarian Cheddar Category, and won Silver for all three!

11 Delicious Somerset Cheeses

More delights from Somerset to promote here, this time it’s delicious Somerset cheese! All are local cheese but only two are traditional cheddars! We have tried 10 of the 11 on the list and can endorse their quality and depth or delicacy of flavour.

We really do produce some superb British Cheeses in the the UK,  Somerset in particular (many of which could give the French and Italians a run for their money these days!).

Do try them if you get the chance.

Read the full article with the list of Somerset cheeses  HERE.

A Guide to Food Festivals in Somerset

Hideaways (www.hideaways.co.uk) has just published a comprehensive guide to food festivals in Somerset. Our thanks to Dawn Stephens-Borg from Accord Marketing for including us in this lovely guide. A fantastic read for foodies who would like to explore the variety of food this wonderful county produces and where best to sample them.

Click HERE to read the Guide.

Salsa Annual Audit

We had a long day today; we received our annual SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) accreditation inspection. It was carried out by, arguably, the most knowledgeable raw milk cheese microbiologist in the Country. In addition, he had requested to bring along a Senior Cheese Technologist from Sainsbury’s, who was interested in observing how the SALSA scheme worked.

The SALSA Scheme is wonderful! It’s a professional, well managed and recognised thorough scheme. Small batch, small company, particularly artisan food producers can rarely meet ‘large company’ sophistication. So the SALSA Scheme takes this into account, acknowledging that small batch production does not necessarily mean poorer quality. Approval demonstrates that a detailed inspection of the food producer has taken place by a qualified assessor, that all legal requirements have been adhered to, and most importantly, that the food produced is deemed safe for consumption.

The audit lasted 9 hours, and in today’s heat it was all rather stressful. The natural perspiration from the heat, we were convinced, made us look extra nervous, which …..therefore ….made us extra nervous!

We readily agreed to the Sainsbury’s accompaniment but then some colleagues wondered whether this would be even more stressful? Would our auditor be extra picky? Would the Sainsbury’s Technologist dig deep into our IT efficiencies? (“they may be more used to dealing with large production set ups, large scale computer controlled production lines…… possibly with super duper clever magic eyes and robots monitoring the processes 24 hours a day?” we pondered.

We needn’t have worried, all went well and the lovely Technologist  from Sainsbury’s was a joy have here! The nice thing about SALSA, we feel, is that the auditor is as much a mentor as an inspector. We are allowed to challenge questions for relevance to our business and encouraged to demonstrate compliance to the Standard, in our own experienced way. In addition we can seek advice and recommendations for further improvements.

However much we prepared for the audit, we were definitely tested (to the limit!) to demonstrate that we produce a good quality, safe cheese.

Here are a few excerpts from the report:

‘An established family business with a senior management team that has excellent knowledge of the cheesemaking industry’

‘throughout the company, there was good technical knowledge and comprehension of cheesemaking principles’

‘production staff were well trained’

‘good standards of hygiene were evident in all food-handling areas’

If anyone would like to know more about our audit or have a copy of our audit report, please get in touch.

A long day, yet well worth it.

Champion Cheese Maker: FACT!

We are so proud of our Production Supervisor and Senior Cheese Maker, Shaun.

Yesterday we won ‘Champion’ at the Devon County Show for a cheese which Shaun made. Not only did it win First Prize in its category, but it was first overall, scoring 48 points out of a maximum of 50. We are over the moon about this. Well done Shaun.

Hand made traditional cheese making is a labour of love. Our Cheese Makers receive the milk into our Dairy every morning, and undergo a 7 to 8 hour transformation responsibility which is not only a physical slog, but the concentration and attention to detail to control time, temperature and critical controls (both physical and chemical) is exhausting. As those in the cheese industry know, it takes a certain kind of person to make cheese and as our SALSA Quality Auditor remarked about Shaun during our last inspection “He was born to be a cheese maker”.

Making the cheese is the first day of its life, we then press it, dress it and mature some of our traditional cheeses for up to 2 years. The care involved has paid off well and truly.

Of course it’s a team effort as our other Cheese Makers Sam and Will would have contributed to the care throughout its life in our maturing stores, but it was Shaun who ‘gave birth’ to this beauty – he is now a CHAMPION Cheese Maker and we are very proud indeed.