Perched on the outskirts of the beautiful Oxfordshire village Nettlebed near Henley-on-Thames is Nettlebed Creamery, home of award-winning cheeses Bix, Witheridge and Highmoor. We recently visited Nettlebed creamery to find out more about their incredible cheeses and what makes them so special.
The business was established in 2015 by Rose Grimond who had been working in the food industry, supplying restaurants and Borough Market with produce from the Orkney Islands. Her plan was to come back to the family farm and help them diversify.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and over the last few years, Rose’s team of one has now become ten-strong. It includes four cheesemakers, two warehouse managers, three in the office, and one expert milkman – a close-knit team who all have one passion in common: making great cheese.
Nettlebed Creamery is proud to work in partnership with HMP Huntercombe and Style Acre. There is currently one offender who work at the Creamery as part of their rehabilitation. Style Acre is a local charity that works with young people with learning difficulties. One of their clients comes to work once a week to help the packing team.
The farm has been organic since 2001, ensuring rich biodiversity for everyone living in or visiting the area. They also endeavour to be as environmentally-conscious as possible with all heat produced from a wood chip boiler and solar panels which provide renewable electricity.
To have organic cheese, the cows must be fed a natural and organic diet of grass. Most non-organic cows are fed with imported, genetically modified animal feed, and are generally given more concentrated feed (on average a third more) to increase milk production. In organic systems, cows must be fed a minimum of 60% forage. This reduces the yield significantly, but is more sustainable and helps to protect the animals’ health and welfare.
A spacious environment also reduces stress and allows them to behave naturally. This means there is no need for preventative antibiotic use, and helps minimise the risk of antimicrobial resistance which also protects the effectiveness of antibiotics for the future.
We were lucky enough to see the first cutting of Bix, a 21-day matured soft cheese with a bloomy white rind.
The Nettlebed team believe that artisan cheese is a true reflection of the hard work of the people who made them, which is what makes their cheese unique.
Large-scale supermarket cheddar uses a particular bacterium – Helveticus – which hits the sweet and salty receptors in the mouth and creates a uniform, highly accessible flavour. A sort of MSG of cheese, and something they believe is cheating.
Their true artisan, farmhouse cheeses are nothing other than a celebration of the cow’s milk from which it is made and in this case, it’s the organic milk directly from the farm.
So we took a trip to visit these wonderful creatures, in the comfort of their own field. We often explain that quality of product comes from the ground the cattle graze on, and it became abundantly clear why these cheeses taste so fresh and full of flavour. The grazing meadow was a strip of lush green grass protected by thick woodland. The colourful cattle were inquisitive and took a walk over to greet us.
Cheeses and awards
The proof is in the pudding, with all three of their cheeses winning a host of accolades and awards:
Bix – a triple cream, mould-ripened soft cheese – winner of gold and best organic cheese at the British Cheese Awards 2019. We sell Bix as a 100g cylindrical whole cheese in a wooden case for £5.95 and it also features in The Ultimate Pong Box.
Highmoor – a square, smeared-rind semi-soft cheese, made with organic milk. It can be creamy and buttery when young, and develop meaty, brothy savoury notes as it ages. It lends itself well to all sorts of cooking. The cheese won a Great Taste Award in 2019. It is best eaten at a warm room temperature for all its complexity to be expressed.
Witheridge – a semi-hard cheese which is aged in hay. Nettlebed are the first cheesemakers in the UK to age cheese in hay and it lends really interesting grassy and fruity elements to the rind. The cheese also won a Great Taste Award in 2019.
St Bartholomew cheese – similar to many alpine cheeses; it has a deep, nutty flavour with fruity, caramel-y overtones. Created in 2015, St Bartholomew is already an award winner, bringing home a Bronze at the Artisan Cheese Fair and a Silver at the British Cheese Awards. St Bartholomew is named after the Nettlebed village church.
Nettlebed also exclusively make Alex James’ No 5 Grunge, which is an adaptation of Highmoor.
March 2021 saw the introduction of The Cheese Shed. This on site café welcomes walkers, cyclists, families, dogs and anyone wanting to pop in for refreshment. We sampled their cheese toastie which used a blend of Witheridge and Highmoor, offering the perfect blend of flavours and meltability.
We have featured Highmoor in a previous Pong Cheese Club and Bix is now in our regular cheese range, as well as featuring in some cheese gift boxes. We’ll be looking to include other Nettlebed cheeses in our ranges and Cheese Club boxes in the future.