Sam has worked for Andy Swinscoe at The Courtyard Dairy since March 2016, and has seen the business grow and move into its new site at the former falconry centre. It is at this new site that we hope to establish our business. Alongside his work in the cheeseshop, he has visited over 15 on-farm cheese producers from the Bartlett family at Wootton Organic Dairy in Somerset to Martin Gott at Holker Farm in Cumbria. He has also undertaken cheesemaking courses at the School of Artisan Food with Ivan Larcher, at Neal’s Yard Dairy with Jen Kast, and at The Courtyard Dairy with both Andy Swinscoe and David Asher. He has a lifelong passion for cheese and an unfettered respect for the traditional, agricultural landscape of the Dales.
Rachael is new to both the world of cheese and the Yorkshire Dales, hailing from County Durham where she has a background putting in a hard days graft working with horses. She is passionate about the sustainability of land management and the welfare of the animals under her purview. Since moving to the Dales, she has made invaluable connections with a number of local businesses and farmers, and has taken on the task of raising and training our very own working sheepdogs under the careful guidance of Amos Dewhurst of Winterburn Working Sheepdogs. She is also passionate about preserving traditional rare-breed animals in a way which gives them an economic purpose, and sees cheesemaking as the ideal opportunity to do so.
Long Churn Ltd. is our joint venture, seeking to bring together our complimentary strengths and skillsets to achieve a joint vision. We spent last summer waking (very) early to milk a small flock of dairy sheep at nearby Lawkland Hall Farm. Pete and Rona make a fantastic sheeps milk ice-cream from their flock at Lawkland, but did not utilise all their milk. They generously agreed to let us milk their flock in exchange for some ewes’ milk. This milk was used to create some trial batches – some better than others! This experience of both dairying and cheesemaking allowed us to create a more concrete plan for building a business of which we can be proud. There are multiple strands which we think are necessary; a set of interconnected prerequisites for producing a quality product with true provenance:
Firstly, we believe that low impact, sustainable agriculture is fundamental. This means traditional seasonality in dairying, responsible stocking levels, robustly diverse and natural pastures, natural feeds and the use of traditional breeds. We are planning to adapt a hardy and robust native breed, the Wensleydale sheep, into a dairy animal which we hope will result in a multi-purpose sheep which is ideally suited to our Yorkshire Dales location and require lower levels of input than an intensive, specialised breed of dairy sheep. We also plan on sourcing hay and haylage from some beautiful local traditional hay-meadows.
Secondly, we believe that fresh, raw milk is the best starting point for cheese production. We will milk the sheep within a mile of the cheesemaking location, and will have the fresh, still warm milk into the vat within 30 minutes of milking. This means that no cooling, storing and reheating of the milk is necessary, saving a significant amount of energy. It also means that the milk will suffer no damage or biological interference, resulting in a better quality cheese which will be a truer reflection of our farm.
Third, we believe that preserving the natural expression of our milk is vital. We will spend a huge amount of time and effort perfecting every aspect of the farming, milking and cheesemaking, from the soil to the truckle, and we want our milk to be able to express this in its entirety. For this reason, we are committed to developing self-made natural starter cultures through fermentation of our raw milk. At present only five producers currently use natural starters in the UK. Adopting this traditional method will allow the natural flora, flavours and characteristics of the milk and the season to express themselves in the finished cheese in a way that no commercial starter can ever replicate. It allows us to inoculate each mornings raw milk within half an hour with vibrant, biologically active cultures which are derived from (and therefore familiar with thriving in) the very same milk. Think of it as akin to a sourdough culture for cheesemaking.
Fourth, we believe that the ambiance of the ageing environment has a marked effect on the maturing of the cheese. To express the cavernous limestone environment in which we are situated, we plan to mature the cheese inside one of the cool and humid caves of the Yorkshire Dales. We are sure that cheesemakers must have utilised the ideal ageing environment of the caves in times gone by, and would like to allow our cheese to ripen in this authentic environment.
Lastly, we believe that public engagement and education is pivotal to the long-term success of farmhouse cheese in the UK. With many mass-market cheeses using ‘farm’ names for marketing purposes and vastly undercutting the price of true farmhouse cheese, it seems critical to engage with the general public to demonstrate ins and outs of farming and cheesemaking, and the scale on which we are working. There is only so much one can communicate on packaging or on a website, so in the future we aim to host public events and demonstrations exploring farmhouse cheese production, the value of quality raw milk, and the importance of small-scale sustainable farming for our shared future.
What cheese do you make?
We plan on making two sheep’s milk cheeses. The first will be a soft lactic cheese, not dissimilar to the typical goats milk ‘crottin’ you may be familiar with. The second will be a creamy and nutty hard cheese based on the Pyrenean Ossau-Iraty and the ‘Petit-Brebis’ you find in southern France . We don’t have names for these cheeses yet. Feel free to email us your suggestions!
Where can I buy your cheese?
Unfortunately we haven’t started commercial production yet, and still need to gain approval from our local Environmental Health Officer. We aim to be in production by summer 2019 with the first cheeses being on sale shortly after when they have sufficiently matured. Once they’re ready you will be able to buy the from The Courtyard Dairy, and you might also find us at some local markets and agricultural shows. Watch this space!
So are you part of The Courtyard Dairy?
No. We are a separate independent business. However, you will see us around there as Sam still works for Andy and Kathy at The Courtyard Dairy, and we rent a cheese making room on their site.
Where do you farm?
At present we are not farming. The sheep’s milk comes from Pete and Rona at Lawkland Hall Farm. They have generously helped us get familiar with the routine of daily milking, allowing us to milk their flock throughout last summer. The plan is for Rachael to milk there again this year. Pete and Rona will keep most of the milk to make their delicious sheep’s milk ice-cream, and we will take two or three days worth of milk for our cheesemaking. In this sense it is somewhat ‘our milk’. We are working towards establishing our own flock of Wensleydale sheep to milk, and want to exclusively use milk from our own farm within a couple of years.
Wait, aren’t Wensleydale sheep for wool?
Yes and no. Wensleydale sheep are indeed famed for the fabulous quality of their lustre wool, regarded as the best wool of any breed of sheep. However they also produce a good quality (and large) carcass so are also regarded as a good meat sheep. In addition to this, they are both large and prolific, meaning they are very milky and make an ideal dairy ewe. Indeed historically Wensleydale sheep were milked in the Dales, and were known for their rich and mildly flavoured milk. The breed was considered a ‘triple purpose’ sheep providing wool, meat and milk. They are considered hardy enough to be at pasture even during the harsher months here in the Dales (something which certainly cannot be said about most dedicated dairy breeds).
How did you get into cheese?
Sam has always loved cheese, and even used to pretend to be a ‘cheesemaker’ in the kitchens of various castles and manor houses he visited with his parents as a young boy (yes, really). He also used to sneak lumps of parmesan to bed and clandestinely consume cheese under the covers. Until recently, however, he was on track to train as a lawyer! He studied Public International Law at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands, where he could often be found hanging around Gerard Litjens’ boerenkaas (farmhouse cheese) stall, or sampling the exquisite matured goats cheese produced by Magda Scholte and Harry van Wenum. Magda and Harry’s cheese is particularly special, produced from organic raw milk from their 85 dairy goats which graze the lush clover meadows bordering both the Veluwe nature reserve and the Gelderse Vallei nature reserve. Both cheesemakers can be found at the Utrecht organic farmers’ market, held every Friday at Vredenburgplein.
While he enjoyed his studies, he remained a country boy at heart. He tried to return to rurality during each summer break, and often did work on farms through schemes like WWOOF. By 2015 he had grown somewhat uninspired by his future prospects in law (largely sat at a desk reading PDFs for 10 hours a day) and started looking for alternative careers which would enable him to spend more time in the countryside. As luck would have it, The Courtyard Dairy had a job opening at around the same time. Although taking a part-time job and moving into the Dales was a rather risky move, it was also an opportunity which couldn’t be missed.
Anything we missed?
If you have a question we haven’t covered, or you want to make any suggestions for updates or blogposts, please contact us and let us know.