Wensleydale cheese has been made in Wensleydale since 1150, when Cistercian monks settled in the dale and established a monastery at Fors, just 4 miles from Hawes.
Today, Wensleydale cheese is still handcrafted, to a time-honoured recipe, using milk from local farms, where the cows graze the sweet limestone meadows that are rich in wild flowers, herbs and grasses. It is this herbage that gives the milk, and hence the cheese, its special dales flavour.
The Wensleydale Dairy circa 1913 – in Hawes
Sole Maker: E Chapman, the Wensleydale Dairy Hawes for the cream of all cheeses.
Sizes and prices on application. Trade only supplied. Also Stilton shaped and flats. Tel. Hawes No. 4
Sweet Limestone Pastures
Real Wensleydale cheese is made with milk drawn from cows grazing the sweet limestone pastures of Upper Wensleydale, an Environmentally Sensitive Area where the use of artificial chemicals fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides are restricted.
This scheme helps preserve the traditional hay meadows and pastures of the Yorkshire Dales which are ablaze with colourful wild grasses, herbs and flowers during late spring.
These traditional meadows are cut later than usual thus allowing time for the grasses to seed. It is these sweet grasses and flowers of the limestone pastures surrounding Hawes that give Wensleydale cheese its distinctive taste; all the milk used at the Hawes Creamery comes from 34 local Wensleydale farms.
THE ART OF CHEESE MAKING – MILLING
AFTER ‘STARTER’ BACTERIA CULTURES have been added to the milk to ‘sour’ it in a controlled way, rennet is added that allows the milk to ‘clot’ which when cut separates the curds from the whey.
When the curds have reached the correct size, they are then ‘scalded’ by passing steam around the jacket of the vat, which heats up the curds and whey by just a few degrees and expels more moisture from the curds.
The next stage of the Wensleydale cheese-making process is pitching, which happens when a certain level of acidity has been reached.
Stirring ceases, allowing the curd to settle in the bottom of the vat and the mass of curd is cut into large blocks to allow the whey to drain away.
The finished texture of the cheese is determined by how well the curd is ‘worked’ in the vat at this stage by turning the blocks, cutting and ripping them into small cubes with knives and forking over – all at precisely the right times to create the crumbly texture of Wensleydale cheese.
Salt is then added to the curd when the correct level of acidity has been reached, so greatly reducing the activity of the starter cultures. Salting also helps to expel excess whey from the curd, acts as a preservative and enhances the flavour.
The next stage of the Wensleydale Cheese making process is Milling. The salted curd is allowed to ‘mellow’ or stand for between 5 and 10 minutes before being shovelled through the cheese mill and shredded into small pieces. The mill stands directly over a stainless steel trough on wheels (the’cooler’) into which the milled curd falls.
See Norman McCallum Cheese Grader
- by Innway Publications
- Editor Mark Reid