30 Dec 2012

Ribblesdale Cheese: room for two

Wallace's smile wouldn't have been quite so wide if he'd known that the nice bit of Yorkshire Wensleydale brought to him by Gromit could well have been made in Shropshire, Cheshire or even (whisper it) Lancashire. 

Like many territorial cheeses, most Wensleydale is now manufactured on an industrial scale miles away from the beautiful Yorkshire valley where it was traditionally made. Most cheesemongers know there is an exception to this sad state of affairs in the form of the Wensleydale Creamery, which is based in Hawes in the North Yorkshire dales. 

What is less well known is that there is actually another cheese maker in the town making Wallace's favourite fromage. Ribblesdale Cheese was set up in 1978 by Iain Hill in the nearby village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, but after he passed away in 2006 his niece Iona Hill took over the business and relocated it to Hawes. 

Not that the Wensleydale Creamery would have been too worried by the competition. Ribblesdale is a fraction of the size of its neighbour, as Iona Hill explains: “They employ 200 people and have a turnover of £22m. We employ two people – me and cheesemaker Stuart Gatty – and our turnover is £350,000. There's really no comparison.” 

That said, Hill is keen to play up the fact that she also makes Wensleydale in Hawes, pointing out that in the 2011 Great Taste Awards her cheese received two stars, while her larger neighbour picked up just one for its Wensleydale. “We know we can make it, it's just that we don't have the market because everyone associates Hawes with Wensleydale Dairy,” she says. “It's a shame because my big mantra is that there are two cheese makers in Hawes.”

Despite the difference in size, or perhaps because of it, relations between the two companies are good. Richard Clarke, Wensleydale Creamery's head cheesemaker uses Ribblesdale's premises once or twice a month to make an unpasteurised Wensleydale – something that would be tricky at creamery which is dedicated to pasteurised milk.“I'm happy to work with them rather than against them,” says Hill.

Ribblesdale also makes its own unpasteurised Wensleydale, using milk from a local pedigree herd, as well as a pasteurised version and a new product called Yorkshire Bowlers - red waxed balls of Wensleydale that look like cricket balls.

However, cow's milk cheese remains a small part of the business with 85% of production coming from hard goat's cheeses, including best sellers such as Original Goat and Superior Goat gouda.

To continue reading this article, which was first published in the Dec issue of Fine Food Digest, click here and turn to p21.

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