An interview with Sam & Ben Spence of Yoredale Cheese (Curlew Dairy)

Ben and Sam Spence Cheesemakers

Farmer and cheese-makers, Sam & Ben spence make Yoredale cheese in Wensley, North Yorkshire. Andy interviewed them to find out what makes these fantastic cheese-makers tick.

Give a brief synopsis of your business and career.
We weren’t always cheese makers, Samantha and I met whilst working for the accountancy firm PwC in Manchester, after deciding we wanted a family and a quieter life we headed back to where I grew up to start our own business.
After returning to the family farm, we diversified to make cheese. Three years ago we moved off farm, locally to the village of Wensley in Wensleydale. We make an unpasteurised Wensleydale cheese called Yoredale, right next door to our house.

What made you get into doing what you do?
Having grown up on a dairy farm, I knew how undervalued milk was, and so have always been keen to process milk into something that reflects the farm from where it was made. It was actually a suggestion from the late David Hartley who ran Wensleydale Creamery at the time, that no one makes an unpasteurised Wensleydale in Wensleydale that really got us interested.

What is your philosophy for your food/business?
To make the best product we can from the milk we receive, and to bring people food that has the minimum amount of processing as possible.

Describe a typical working day.
I go to collect the milk at 5am, so we are able to collect the morning milk warm. We add starter and rennet at roughly 8am to set the milk. Cutting the set curd is at 10, before working the curd (stirring, draining the whey off, stacking the curd up) happens until lunch. After that we mill (break the curd up) around 2 and pack the finished cheese into moulds to press. This gets us done in time for the school run!
In amongst this there are all the other jobs to be done: paperwork, turning and brushing aged cheese, packing it up for dispatch….

What’s the best part of your job? And do you have a favourite memory from work?
The best part of the job is grading the cheese, and trying to understand why the cheese tastes as it does, based on the make sheets and what happened during that days production. As it is a natural product every batch is slightly different, and we strive to improve our cheese all the time.

When you are at home what is your staple dish for the family?
Chilli with our smoked Yoredale!

What is your favourite place to go eat?
RIND at The Courtyard Dairy 😉

Do you have a favourite cheese at the moment? If so, why is it your favourite?
Killeen goats Gouda… very moorish

What couldn’t you live without?
My kids. Give me a reason to get up in a morning!

Where do you look for inspiration in your business?
Our inspiration comes from other cheesemakers. Throughout my career I have made a big effort to meet with as many established cheese makers as possible. There is always something to learn, and it’s amazing to be able to bounce ideas off people in the same industry as we are.

What is the best success you’ve had with your product?
Getting it into The Courtyard Dairy, and then Neals Yard Dairy. Without both of these customers our business simply wouldn’t be here.

What are your plans for the future?
We have a blue Yoredale in the making, so short term includes focusing on improving that. Longer term we have ambitions for a tenant farm and having a few cows again.

What’s your a favourite way to cook your cheese?
Simple: fresh sourdough topped with Yoredale dipped in balsamic…. 🤪  or maybe the classic: Yoredale with a slice of fruitcake 👍👍👍

You can buy Yoredale and Yoredale Blue here, and don’t forget to follow Ben and Spence on Instagram too!

 

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