An interview with Tom & Clare Noblet of Whin Yeats Dairy (Fellstone Cheese)
Farmer and cheese-makers, Tom and Clare Noblet make Fellstone cheese on their farm near Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria. Andy interviewed them to find out what makes these fantastic cheese-makers tick.
Give a brief synopsis of your business and career.
We started making cheese at Whin Yeats in 2015, after being at the farm for about 4 years. Prior to that, Tom had worked on various farms in the Garstang area as well as working for a company that fits and maintains milking parlours. Clare had worked as a nurse, initially in cardiac intensive care and then as a community nurse. Tom came to work for Max and Jenny Burrow at Whin Yeats with a view to share farming with them, allowing the farm to continue as a dairy farm.
We milk around 80 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows, all of which are bred on the farm and lamb 130 Rough Fell ewes. The main proportion of our milk is sold to First Milk on a liquid contract with, at present, about 10% being used for cheesemaking, making around 180kg of Fellstone cheese per week. We make a Dales type cheese, based on a traditional Wensleydale recipe, which is matured for 6-8 weeks.
What made you get into doing what you do?
Falling milk prices in 2014 made us look at the future sustainability of the farm. We felt we had a great opportunity from Max and Jenny to farm with the security of a 50 year tenancy in place, but we needed to look at ways of adding value to the milk we produce. With a somatic cell count of below 50 and a bactoscan of below 10, we knew that our milk was some of the cleanest in the country so started to look at the possibility of making raw milk cheese. As we were expecting our fourth baby, cheese making seemed to be a diversification that could fit in around the daily farm routine and the children.
What is your philosophy for your food/business?
Attention to detail – if the cows are well looked after, the milk they produce will be clean and of high quality, ensuring we can make a high quality cheese.
Describe a typical working day.
We start milking at 5.45am, so on a cheese-making day, the vat is turned on at 5.15am to warm up. Milk is piped straight from the parlour into the vat, ensuring that the milk we use is fresh and warm. Starter culture is added once the vat is full (500-600 litres), and rennet about an hour later. During this time, young calves are fed and the cow buildings are scraped out and bedded up – the cows go out during the day through late spring, summer and hopefully into autumn, but are housed at night all year round. In winter, heifer buildings are also scraped out and bedded up, and all animals fed before our breakfast! From then, we cut the cheese at about 9am, and the cheese-making process continues until around 1pm. Farm jobs vary daily, depending on the time of year – there is always slurry to be spread, yards and feed troughs to be kept clean, hedges and walls to maintain, as well stock work such as foot trimming, AI. We have a vet visit fortnightly to check which heifers and cows are in calf, and as we calve all year round, there are always jobs to do with youngstock such as tagging, dehorning and vaccinations. We milk again at 4.30pm (and so in winter, scrape out and bed up cow buildings again), and feed young calves, and the day’s Fellstone cheeses are turned and bandaged before being pressed again overnight. We look round all the stock at around 10pm, and check any calving cows again in the night.
What’s the best part of your job? And do you have a favourite memory from work?
It’s great to see cows coming into the milking herd that we have seen grow from calves, and to know the families of these – you can often see temperaments coming through as well as physical characteristics! We live in a beautiful area and are lucky that our children are able to grow up here, and that they can be involved in much of the work that we do.
When you are at home what is your staple dish for the family?
We all eat together, after milking time, so meals that can be put in the oven at the start of milking and be ready when we finish are great!
What is your favourite place to go eat (if you’re not eating at yours!)?
We always enjoy The Plough, Lupton – great food, lovely atmosphere and really near!
Do you have any other hidden foodie gems you think are worth people knowing about?
The children’s current favourite is The Milking Parlour in Kirkby Lonsdale – they make their ice-cream from their cow’s milk with some amazing flavours!
Do you have a favourite cheese at the moment? If so, why is it your favourite?
Kirkham’s Lancashire is always a favourite for us, just great.
What couldn’t you live without?
For cheesemaking, buying our first (hand) peg mill transformed our make process, in terms of consistency and efficiency. We recently changed to an electric peg mill which again has made a huge difference.
What is the best success you’ve had with your product?
Probably just actually seeing Fellstone on cheese counters – knowing where it has come from and what has gone into it.
What is your plans for the future?
We want to continue to develop our cheese to be the best it can be, and continue to improve the sustainability of the farm for the future.
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