Creating a brand new cheese at Whin Yeats farm, a definite cheese to watch…

Fellstone Cheese - WhinyeatsIn early 2015 a young couple named Tom and Clare Noblet visited The Courtyard Dairy at Settle and told Andy Swinscoe and his team of their intention of starting to make quality cheese. Their small dairy farm, barely 20 miles away from The Courtyard Dairy, was struggling to survive. Receiving barely 19p a litre for their milk at the time meant that it seemed like there was little future for the farm.

It all stemmed from six years ago. Tom had long held an ambition to own his own farm and cows, and loves milking, so in 2010, with his wife Clare and four children, they realised his ambition and set up a partnership with established dairy farmers Max and Jenny Burrow, who were looking to retire. The plan was that Tom and Clare would slowly buy Max and Jenny out of Whin Yeats farm, eventually taking full control of the 80 dairy cows that graze on the hilly terrain on the edge of the Lake District.
Soon after moving to Whin Yeats, however, Tom and Clare ran into difficulties. The continuing low price of milk meant that the farm was effectively unsustainable in the long term if it continued to rely solely on sale of milk. So they researched how they might solve this. Making a traditional unpasteurised cheese on their farm seemed to offer a solution. They already had the farm and the milk (some of the ‘cleanest’ in the county), so Tom set about building a dairy by hand, including laying the concrete and installed the plumbing and refrigeration himself.

Stiring Fellstone curdDeciding they wanted to make a real quality farmhouse cheese, which would be essential if the cheese was to be successful in the long term, Tom and Clare called into The Courtyard Dairy to pick Andy’s brains. It is easy to make cheese, but to make a quality cheese that will stand out alongside some of the best cheeses in the world, well, that’s not so easy, and requires practice and experience. Even some cheese-makers with generations of experience can sometimes get it wrong. So Andy gave them guidance on technical cheese-making reference books, advice on recording their cheese-making procedure, and best practice on how to construct their ageing/maturing room. Clare then went on a short cheese-making course, following which, in October 2015, they produced their first batches of Whin Yeats cheese, made to a basic smallholder ‘hard’ cheese recipe.

Hutton Roof CheeseShortly afterwards, Andy went to visit the Noblets and Whin Yeats Farm to offer advice on the taste of their early batches. He initially came across quite an obvious fault: they weren’t adding anywhere near enough salt, which made it impossible to really determine any flavour, but was a good sign as with low salt the cheese wasn’t showing any problems or defects which means the milk is of good clean quality.

At this visit Andy encouraged them make a Wensleydale-style cheese (calling it Fellstone) because there are currently no producers of farmhouse unpasteurised Wensleydale. Not only was there a clear gap in the cheese range – a truly special unpasteurised Wensleydale – but he also felt it was more evocative of the traditional dales-style northern cheeses that used to be found in their area. To assist them, Andy sent several old Wensleydale recipes and gave advice on where to purchase better ‘starter bacteria’ to help improve their cheese making. He promised to return in several months, once they had settled into making this new cheese style, to help them further improve their cheese. He was very keen to help develop this local farm-made cheese to be one that people would talk about throughout the UK, and at the same time assist the young couple with ensuring their farm remained sustainable.

tom-clare-noblet-cheeseRevisiting in early 2016, Andy spent the day making cheese with Clare. The cheese tasted good, but he could quickly see several ways to improve it even more: more salt (yes again!), increase the temperature of the ‘make room’ (which was very cold) to prevent the curd cooling down too quickly in the vat, and install a vat lid to protect the exposed top of the milk. He encouraged Clare to purchase a few specialist bits of kit to improve the process (such as a mill – because the milling was being done by hand), and did some tinkering to the recipes hoping to improve consistency and quality (such as more stirring, more even cutting, stacking of the curd, etc.).

A month later, and the early batches made with the right amount of salt and the refined procedure sold well at Kendal’s Food Festival.

The cheese is still in development. Andy is hoping that when he next visits Whin Yeats farm, intending further to offer advice on improving the cheese, he will be able to bring some finished cheese back to sell at The Courtyard dairy. He knows that, with Clare and Tom’s lovely Whin Yeats farm and their dedication to quality, theirs is a definite cheese to watch – and he’s sure that if they continue to refine and improve as they have been doing, they will be soon be making an outstanding cheese that will be a welcome addition to the best cheese-boards across the land.

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