I absolutely love cheese and so when an invitation popped in my inbox to visit the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, a family owned, independent, artisanal cheddar cheesemaker in the village of Cheddar, of course I said yes! What makes the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company unique and special is that they are the only cheesemaker that makes authentic cheddar cheese in Cheddar itself.
The absolutely lovely owners, Katherine and John Spencer, have ensured to use recipes that reflect the traditional cheddar recipes and in line with the area’s heritage, and they even mature some cheese wheels in the caves in Cheddar Gorge! They both gave up their jobs in the corporate world, with previous backgrounds in the food industry, to focus on making their cheese, which is award winning, and I think we can all agree that they are both living the dream!
For our visit, we took the train from London Paddington to Bath Spa and were picked up by Katherine, but if you do want to visit Cheddar Gorge on a day trip to London, you can take a bus, or drive, or take another train to Yatton from Bath Spa, and hop into a taxi from there.
On arrival we were treated to divine Cheddar cheese scones as well as apple and Cheddar muffins, to fuel us for the day ahead of “Cheddaring.”
So you may be wondering what “Cheddaring” is and how Cheddar Cheese inherited its name? Although Cheddar Gorge Cheese is made in Cheddar, it is the only company in the world to make Cheddar here. Cheddar Cheese is named after the actual cheesemaking process of making Cheddar Cheese, known as “Cheddaring.” Cheddar is possibly the most famous cheese in the world, and its origins lie in Cheddar Gorge, the adorable village that shares its name.
Before we saw the process, we visited Gough’s Cave in the gorge where the company has some cheese wheels being matured, and what a unique sight it was!
They are the only company in living memory to mature Cheddar Cheese in Cheddar this way and the results are absolutely delicious, having been able to try sneak previews of some of the cheese currently being matured. The wheels are usually left to mature there for around 12 months, and are turned regularly.
The process of cave matured Cheddar cheese is actually an age old tradition that the company has successfully revived. In the olden days, caves were used as refrigeration due to their constant temperatures and high humidity, both perfect conditions for cheesemaking. It was mind blowing to see the Cheese wheels maturing, all with different dates of production, and seeing the differences between them, both in terms of the colours of the external moulding, and also in the flavour between two wheels produced on the same day!
A further experiment the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company have started is to see the difference in results between a Cheese Wheel with a Cheese cloth and one without. The immediate difference that we saw was the variation in shape of the wheel. I am intrigued to see how the two pan out in 12 months time when they are ready!
Once back at the dairy, we indulged in a bit of cheese tasting, alongside a marvellous spread of accompaniments, to try the different Cheddar Cheese that the company produced, the main ones being Cave Matured Cheddar, Vintage Cheddar, Oak Smoked Cheddar and an absolutely delicious Natural Blue Cheddar, which actually resulted from a happy accident. I loved the Cave Matured Cheddar, which we were able to compare in terms of maturity with a Cheddar that wasn’t matured in the Cave. The taste of the Cave-Matured Cheddar was distinctive and I loved the big rounded flavour!
Tummies full and on a Cheddar cheese high, we proceeded to the dairy to learn more about the “Cheddaring” process with Will, the Cheesemaker that day. The dairy has large glass windows so visitors can see the process live, but we were lucky enough to go inside and help Will, wearing all the appropriate gear.
The cheese curds are first cut up into small pieces to allow the whey to drain from them, and are pressed together to form slabs. These slabs are continually moved, turned and stacked on top of each other, which enables the moisture to be pressed out. The slabs of curds are then sliced up, pressed back into slabs and stacked again. This process is cheddaring and continues until the desired amount of whey is expelled.
After this, they are sprinkled with lots of salt, and layered up, before being torn in half and passed through a milling machine, to make them small curds again, and salt is added.
The curds are then put into moulds to further drain and age, some will be aged on site, while the Caved aged Cheddar cheese wheels will be transported to Gough’s Cave, where they will transform into amazing Cheddar Cheese, with earthy flavours.
The Cheddaring process is primarily done by hand and is really intensive work by the Cheesemaker. Seeing it in person really made me appreciate Cheddar cheese that much more, knowing all the love, passion and nurturing that goes into the process for us to enjoy the delicious end product!
On site, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company have a fabulous shop filled with so many different varieties of Cheddar. If you are visiting the area be sure to pop in to try a few and take some home, as they are sublime. They also make delicious cheese straws, so do pick these up too!
If you love cheese, or are visiting Somerset, I highly recommend a visit to Cheddar Gorge, as the area is absolutely stunning, and to the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, where you can visit the dairy and learn more about the process, as well as see it live! It is also ideal for a day trip from London, and really easily accessible. It is an ideal activity to do with the kids, and there were lots of families passing through the visitor centre whilst we were in the dairy.
The town of Cheddar is adorable, with lots of cute tea houses, beautiful scenery, and topped with seeing the process of how Cheddar Cheese is made and trying some of the cheese at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, it will definitely be a day to cherish!
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is located at The Cliffs, Cheddar, Somerset BS27 3QA. Find out more at cheddaronline.co.uk.