The Yorkshire Dales may not immediately spring to mind when you think of cheese, but think again, as this area is home to some fine cheesemakers.
As a self-confessed cheeseaholic, I have undertaken extensive research (and tasting! ) in order to undercover the amazing cheeses in this region and in this blog I offer you my personal favourites.
The Ribblesdale Cheese Company are award winning artisan cheese makers based in a micro-dairy on the Upper Wensleydale Business Park in Hawes, about six miles from our holiday cottages in Swaledale. They specialise in goats cheese and produce 15 different goat, sheep and cow cheeses using local milk. All cheeses are made with vegetarian rennet. The cheeses have some fantastic names such as:
Smoked superior goat
Ribblesdale also produce goats curd which has proved very popular. The cheese and curd have been supplied to Harrods, Selfridges and Waitrose and exported as far as Japan, Canada and the Middle East.They are also popular with well known chefs and restaurants including Gary Rhodes, Thomasina Meir and Yorkshire’s own Rudding Park Hotel. You can find recipes on the company’s website.
The cheeses are truly delicious and not at all like your average supermarket goats cheese. Locally, you can buy the cheeses at Elijah Allen in Hawes, Campbells in Leyburn and the Country Harvest at Ingleton. Highly recommended.
Many of you will be familiar with the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, a popular tourist attraction for visitors of all ages (300,000 in 2018) and especially with Wallace and Gromit whose favourite cheese is a “cracking bit of Wensleydale Gromit”. You can watch the cheese being made and visit the museum where you can learn about the history of the Creamery.
There is also a new visitor centre with fun for all the family – interactive games and activities for the children including driving a children’s milk tanker and learning how a cow makes milk. You can watch clips of your famous Wallace and Gromit films and there are colouring kits, quizzes and puzzles.
The Creamery also has a new Demonstration Room which hosts cheese & butter making demonstrations, as well as cheese grading, pairings & tasting masterclasses and exciting, live cookery demonstrations. Watch experienced and knowledgeable cheese experts craft Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese and Yorkshire Butter by hand, with a detailed explanation of the process. Discover a fascinating insight into the thousand-year history of cheese-making in the Dales with audio clips, stunning infographics and displays.
The Creamery sources milk from more than forty local farms and employs staff locally so it is an extremely important part of the local economy. Its huge range of cheeses are available at the Creamery itself, by mail order and in a wide range of outlets. They are exported all over the world and have won over 700 awards. The Creamery has also secured European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in December 2013 which is regarded as a guarantee of quality and authenticity, and is recognised worldwide.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite looking round, you can taste (for free!) over 20 different cheeses in the tasting room. And if you’re still hungry, head to the cafe or restaurant to sample delicious dishes featuring their own cheeses. There is also an outdoor cafe in which dogs are also welcome.
You can take home some delicious cheeses along with a range of other souvenirs from the excellent Gift Shop (where you can also buy the Creamery’s own yoghurts, great ice cream, fudge, gin, bacon and sausages as well as cards and gifts) – there really is something for everyone. The wax truckles of cheese are particularly good to take away as they last for ages and make great presents.
The Creamery is not only a great place to go for visitors to the area, but also for us locals. There is always a new cheese to try and it never fails to amaze us what new recipes they come up with! My absolute favourite is Yorkshire Brie which is the best Brie I have ever tasted. It’s fantastic as it is with crusty bread and tomatoes or fruit, but it’s just divine baked. The Creamery sells it in three sizes and I often make baked Brie as a starter when I have friends round – it is always demolished very quickly! For a hard cheese, I love the Bishopdale – nutty and full of flavour.
For full details of everything happening at the Wensleydale Creamery, visit their website.
The next nearest cheesemakers to our cottages are Lacey’s Cheese Ltd, based in the lovely village of Reeth about ten miles away. Laceys are traditional cheese makers who aim to bring their handmade cheese to all north east Farmers Markets and most of the region’s shows. Their cheeses include traditional Wensleydale, mature and smoked Cheddar, and blue cheeses.
They also offer full day’s cheese making courses in their little creamery in Reeth. Courses can be tailored for 1- 6 people, you get a full day of Yorkshire cheese-making, a light lunch included plus a selection of cheese to take away. Your group will turn 500 litres of local milk into a hard Wensleydale cheese plus some soft cheese as well. You will learn about all the various stages of cheese making, have fun waxing the cheese and grading it with the Iron. And you get to do plenty of cheese tasting throughout the day! Courses cost £99.00 per person or £150.00 for a couple including lunch and a selection of cheese. There are discounts for groups – just ask. You will need good strong shoes or clean wellies and Laceys supply the very fetching aprons and hairnets! Can’t wait to get booked on to one of the courses.
And if you’re looking for a wedding cake with a difference, Laceys can tailor make you a cheese wedding cake – how amazing is that! They can even wax the cheeses in the colours of your special day. In addition they can design cheese boards for all tastes and budgets and you can arrange to do a sample tasting at the creamery in Reeth. A full advice service is available.
For further information, visit Lacey’s website.
Another fascinating find is Stonebeck Wensleydale, produced at Low Riggs Farm in upper Nidderdale. This is a raw milk farmhouse cheese inspired by the heritage of the farm. Cheese was made on the farm using milk from Northern Dairy Shorthorns up to the mid- 1950s. This history inspired the owners to base their cheese making on methods from the early 20th century. They used references from 1917 and 1932 together with interviews with a 101-year-old local cheese maker to re-imagine farmhouse Wensleydale!
Originally they used Belted Galloways to produce the cheese, however the Northern Dairy Shorthorns were becoming endangered so they made the decision to use these cows instead. These days, the milk for the cheese comes from a herd of just fifteen Northern Dairy Shorthorn cows – otherwise known as ‘Dales Shorthorns’, a rare breed native to the Yorkshire Dales. They graze traditional wildflower meadows and pastureland using sustainable and eco-friendly methods, and the taste and texture of the cheese reflects this. The cheese is soft and creamy with a complex and layered flavour. The cheese is made by hand, pressed and bound in unbleached calico before maturing.
The ingredients for the cheese include unpasteurised milk from the herd, a traditional starter culture to promote acid development in the cheese, rennet to set the milk – creating curds and whey, and pure salt.
Stonebeck Wensleydale can be enjoyed when it is young, creamy and fresh or when it is more mature, giving it a greater depth of flavour.
The owners are currently awaiting decisions as to where the cheese will be stocked but it is likely to be available at The Courtyard Dairy in Settle and at Neils Yard Dairy in London, as well as other local outlets.
To find out more about this fabulous and unique cheese visit their website.
If you want to find out more about the history of cheesemaking in the Yorkshire Dales, the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes will launch an exhibition in September this year entitled Dairy Days looking at the deep roots of farming and cheese making in Yorkshire.
And if you want to do more tasting, then check out the second Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival which takes place from 15 – 23 September. There will be over 50 events and activities including talks, tastings, cheese and wine evenings, savoury afternoon teas and gourmet tasting menus. To help burn off some of those calories, there will also be a selection of guided walks, visits to dairy farms and a delve into Victorian cheese-making at the Dales Countryside Museum..
One of the new events will put a cheesy slant on the War of the Roses by holding a week-long tasting competition pitting cheese from Yorkshire against Lancashire-produced cheeses.
Wensleydale Creamery will set the festival off with its two day mini Cheese Festival on September 15th and 16th – there will be local produce stalls, cookery demonstrations, tastings and pairings, butter making and live music.
Visitors can then enjoy all things cheese whilst taking in the beautiful landscape at 20 different venues across the Yorkshire Dales.
To round off the celebrations, on 22nd September there will be a new Beer and Beef Festival at Brymor Ice Cream near Masham featuring locally-reared Dexter beef and locally-produced ales with an eclectic mix of live music and entertainment.
If you would like to taste the cheeses for yourself why not come and visit us in stunning Swaledale!