Nestled in the rolling hills of Somerset, a herd of 100 Holsteins and 20 Jersey cows are grazing sleepily on deep, silty organic peat soils. This feast of nutrients is where it all starts for the incredible cheese-making story of Trethowan’s Dairy.
Brothers Todd and Maugan Trethowan are the master cheesemakers behind the award winning Gorwydd Caerphilly and Pitchfork cheddar. They moved to their current location after a long search for a milk source that was of consistently high quality. The dairy they chose is owned by descendants of the Yeo Valley family who have been farming in this part of the UK since the 1400s. This heritage and knowledge, passed down through the generations, ensures that today’s produce is of superior quality.
Only two cheeses are made at Trethowan’s Dairy – Gorwydd Caerphilly and Pitchfork Cheddar. Instead of being herdsmen, marketers or business moguls, they are instead very focused on simply doing one thing well. And don’t they do it well. Both cheeses have recently won a host of accolades and prizes, including the coveted world cheese awards. At these awards the cheeses are whittled down from almost 3000 to only 50 Super Golds, and from these 16 are presented to be considered for ‘Best Cheese in The World’. Trethowan’s Dairy are the first cheesemakers ever to have two cheeses in this final round of the ‘Super Gold’ category – Gorwydd Caerphilly received ’11th Best Cheese in The World’ and Pitchfork Cheddar ‘4th Best Cheese in the World’ (Pitchfork also won ‘Best British Cheese’).
They are also proud to be part of the Slow Food Movement – an organisation that supports food producers who protect food biodiversity, who are considerate of animal welfare and highlight the need for good, clean choices in the food system. They are one of only three cheddar makers in the world who are part of the organisation.
With this in mind, we asked them what their secret is to making two incredibly special cheeses, and they explain that it all starts from the milk which is gravity fed into their vats. Normally milk is pumped into a tank and this can change the fat consistency of the milk even at this early stage. Their gentle technique allows them the purest of starts.
This organic, unpasteurised milk is a mix of morning milk with an evening milk for a creamier flavour. The creaminess also comes from the 20 Jersey cows in the herd. Every stage of the cheesemaking process is carried out by hand to a very precise methodology and recipe. It involves a gentle heating of the milk, a well refined culture, certain sized blades (depending on whether it’s Gorwydd or Pitchfork), the right amount of salt, and a laborious mixing method that works to cut the curds from the whey.
We follow the production of Gorwydd Caerphilly, and watch as the team worked to create the perfect consistency of curds. They begin packing the cheese in cloth, using traditionally shaped moulds, piled high to allow for additional whey drainage. The cheese compresses in the mould surprisingly quickly, and the team move on to pressing where, incredibly, they use presses that are over a hundred years old.
The Trethowan brothers explain that these traditional presses have been collected from all over the country and each have a story behind them, whether that’s the brothers spotting them in museums to finding them decorating pub gardens and bargaining with the landlord to buy them. They recognise a value in these historical pieces that others see only as antiques. For the Trethowans, these presses are essential to producing a traditional finish for their Gorwydd Caerphilly.
The cheeses are then transported to their final resting place, a sealed room kept at the perfect temperature and ideal humidity. If you closed your eyes you could easily imagine yourself in an cave deep underground.
Where the Gorywdd Caerphilly takes 6-8 weeks to ripen to perfection, the Pitchfork cheddar takes at least a year, which means you really do have to enjoy it while it lasts. The dairy had such an incredible Christmas (after their awards season) that they’re currently working hard to fulfil demand, and a huge part of that demand comes from across the pond in the USA. This is especially impressive given how stringent American rules are for importing unpasteurised cheeses, the quality must be exceptional and only a rare few cheeses pass the checks.
Our tour continues with a look at the various stages of Gorwydd’s development, from a clean clothed yellow purity, through different phases of mold growth, to the final stage where the bacteria dies off leaving an earthy, mushroomy rind.
The Trethowan brothers strongly encourage that the cheese should be eaten with the rind, this mushroomy flavour is just as much part of the cheese as the soft and bouncy insides are. The earthy rind also covers a beautifully creamy, firmer layer that gives you the complex texture and flavour combination that really sets this cheese apart from other Caerphillys.
The Pitchfork cheddar is intensely creamy, slightly nutty with a rounded, savoury aftertaste and a long finish. The texture is not as dry as some cheddars, it has a soft, buttery consistency.
The Trethowan brothers send us off with plenty of samples, and direct us to some great recipes such as this Cauliflower Cheese and Pork Belly, created by James Martin using Pitchfork Cheddar. We also have a cracking recipe of Glamorgan Sausages where we use Gorwydd Caerphilly.
The Trethowan dairy is an example of artisan cheesemaking at its finest, with two master cheesemakers using traditional methods, perfected recipes and processes, and a pinch of love to create something truly spectacular. It reflects everything we celebrate at Pong Cheese.
Pong Cheese currently sell Gorwydd Caerphilly in 250g wedges and are looking into trialling Pitchfork Cheddar soon.