Cheesy1’s are you getting a bit bored with cheddar? You think It just doesn’t cut the crumble. Well think again!
On Sunday 20th September 2015 I ventured down the deepest & darkest caves in Somerset to find Wookey Hole cheddar, which I think is one of the most versatile and tastiest cheddars out there. Now when it comes to cheddars there is some very stiff competition within England and in particularly Somerset, but if you want something that separates itself from the crowd then this cave aged cheese ticks all those boxes. Produced at Ford Farm on the Ashley Chase estate in Dorset it falls within the PDO (Protected Designation Of Origin) region for West Country Cheddar and it is the only one to be matured within caves. Having met Tanys Pullin at the British Cheese Awards I arranged a visit to view the cheddar in its maturation state in the caves. As it is my Mum & Sisters favourite cheese (recommendation for cheese doesn’t come any higher than that!) we all went along and we started the tour by entering the caves at the exit, unusual but this brings you right to the cheese. Continuing past the cheese and donning a hard hat we were lucky enough to go into the newly opened chamber with just the 4 of us in total. A little rickety, a bit damp and slightly high this new chamber is very large but as the pictures below show it highlights just how awesome mother nature is at creating.
In the new chamber it has a very unusual pattern on a huge rock face which Tanys said “It is like it has been used as a massive scratching post for a cat”. Leading us out of the chamber and putting our hard hats back in the baskets we made our way around the caves in the reverse order which offers a very strange perspective as you can really gauge how far down you are; because you have to climb steps to get back up to the entrance. Once we reached the top we then worked our way back around the caves taking in all the beauty.
While we head back to the cheese you can read this short extract where Wookey Hole is explained by the Ford Farm Cheesemakers “In our quest to celebrate traditional cheese making techniques, we have revived the ancient art of maturing cheese in caves, a practice that dates back as far as the 16th century. Firstly, we create delicious, full bodied farmhouse cheddar at our Dorset Cheese Farm using milk from local herds.
We then wrap the cheese in cloth and take it to the Caves at Wookey Hole where it is transported deep into the heart of the caves. We leave the cheese to mature in this constant atmosphere for up to six months. We taste it regularly and test its texture to ensure it retains its moisture and takes on the full flavour and earthy characteristics of these historic caves. The result of our labour of love is our award-winning Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar.” (This excerpt is owned by www.fordfarm.com)
Arriving at the cheese it is simply beautiful, it is like it is meant to be there. They use water from the chambers to clean the mould of the cheese which would add to the flavour also. The smell has the hint of cheese but also in the air you can smell the character that the caves give the cheese. We must pay credit to Tanys for the cleanliness which considering you are underground in a cave the standards are exemplary.
Tanys took out her cheese iron and we tasted Wookey Hole and in this environment it is even more special. It is a subtly sweet & mature cheese that gives a creamy & buttery flavour which when you combine with the cave aged character adds a nuttiness like those tasted in Swiss cheeses, but it makes for a complex and a appreciated Cheddar. Wookey can be used on or in a variety of dishes from the simple beans on toast to a cheese soufflé this versatile yet tasty cheddar is the perfect all rounder from cheese snackers to cheese cookers. My favourite way to enjoy this cheese is with some fresh cherry tomatoes. After discussing and gazing at cheese we posed for some photos with Tanys to mark the cheesy occasion.
At this point we headed back up to daylight and out of the caves and with the taste of Wookey Hole still lingering in our mouths we headed to the onsite Captain Jack’s restaurant for a cup of coffee.
We sat down and spent a good amount of time talking about life and lots of cakes which feature cheese covered in chocolate like the one below. It is staggering the amount of talent this lady has from embroidery to running a cheese business she is dedicated to everything that she does. Just look at the detail and effort below and that is just the icing on the cake (No pun intended!). Our families have also shared very similar experiences and I am pleased to say that after sat there talking to her I hope that it develops into a strong friendship.
We had a brilliant time and learnt so much and being guided around Wookey on a private tour with just the four of us in each chamber was a truly memorable experience. The passion & dedication shown to this cheese is exemplarily and it is no wonder Mike Pullin has been awarded The Queen’s Award Of Enterprise.
In summary this is certainly one to try so when your next shopping pop a piece in your trolley or get some from http://www.fordfarm.com/shop.aspx?c=2&p=shop2 and experience a cheddar that will drive you Cavey for more!
Update 20/09/2015: I have updated with lots of cool pics and info from my tour with Tanys on the weekend.