Cheese Production

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

Well, we finally did it. Less that two years since it began, we’ve finished our new underground cheese cellar! What was once just an idea – and then not much more than a dream – is finally a reality. Our vast vaulted cellar is built and buried back into the cool, insulating clay of the hill, the shelves are up and loaded with cheese, and the robot (affectionately named ‘Tina the Turner’) is whirring up and down the aisles, lifting, turning and brushing the cheese wheels as they undergo their long, slow maturation into beautiful Westcombe cheddar.

And we couldn’t be happier. Sure, it wasn’t the easiest of journeys getting here, but all in all it came together really well. The new cooling system, which is using water from a spring just behind the cellar and circulating it to keep the ageing rooms at the right temperature and humidity, is working brilliantly. Better still, the cellar is already taking on the distinctive Westcombe aroma that defined the old ageing rooms (and some of the character of our cheddars). The new cheeses are also moulding nicely, so we’re pleased with how things are looking at this point. We’re also pleased with all the empty shelves, the result of giving ourselves much more capacity to age cheese!

Our newly designed storage, packing and despatch area at the front of the cellar is a bit of a revelation too, ending years of niggling frustrations with our old set-up, and making things far more efficient and cohesive. While the cellar itself harks back to a pretty ancient way of doing things (using the cool, damp and stable conditions of a natural cave to store and preserve foods), the new packing area is distinctly 21st century, designed and built with state-of-the-art kit and workflow to ensure the highest standards are maintained at all times.

There’s a still a bit of work left to do: the mezzanine area about the packing and despatch rooms, where Dad’s office and our training area/education facility will be housed, is still taking shape, but work’s moving fast on these and they won’t be long now. Then it’s just a case of finishing off the facade to make the whole thing look suitably grand, but also to ensure it's understated and in keeping with nature and the original appearance of the hillside.

In the meantime, here's a video of ‘Tina’ in action, doing her thing and keeping the cheeses happy…

Tom.

JAMIE & TOM'S TRUFFLE CHEDDAR EXPERIMENT

We get some pretty odd requests to make bespoke cheeses from time to time, but none as crazy as the day Jamie Oliver called up to see if I'd be interested in adding a kilo of white Alba truffles to one of our Westcombe Cheddars!

Now, I'm not really a fan of 'flavoured' cheeses. I tend to think unwelcome additions can really upset the delicate balance of a fine cheese. During their year-long maturation, our Cheddars go through a complex fluctuation of bacteria, acidity and PH activity that, if we've used our know-how, the best raw ingredients, and kept them in the right conditions, results in amazing cheese. But start chucking in additional elements and things can quickly go a bit pear shaped.

But what could I say to Jamie? Truffles in a cheddar? What an opportunity to experiment with this most delectable ingredient, and who knows, it might just work! Well, I'm glad to say it was a great success and produced a completely unique cheddar with a sublime umami character and incredible depth of flavour.

And what became of these epic White Truffle Cheddars? Well, we only made two so obviously there wasn't enough to sell here at the shop (and of course the price would be astronomical!).

So Jamie held a special 'Truffle Cheddar' event at Fifteen in London. Head chef Jon Rotheram devised a seven-course menu around the cheeses, and the evening became a special charity fundraising event for a few lucky punters. Read about Fifteen's Celebrations of Westcombe Dairy's White Truffle Cheddar evening here. Tom.

Jon Rotheram's special Westcombe Truffle Cheddar Fifteen menu

Jon Rotheram's special Westcombe Truffle Cheddar Fifteen menu

Jamie introduces Tom at the Fifteen event

Jamie introduces Tom at the Fifteen event

Wye Valley asparagus with Westcombe Tuffle Cheddar

Wye Valley asparagus with Westcombe Tuffle Cheddar

THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR CHEDDAR?

Back in 2007 we got together with West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers, Deep Blue Sky ad agency and the brilliant PR agency Bray Leino to create Cheddarvision, a live, 24/7 webcam showing a Cheddar maturing in our ageing room from the day it was made until its maturation.

What started as a bit of fun and a chance to highlight the importance of time and terroir in the production of traditional Cheddar cheese quickly escalated into a proper 21st century internet phenomenon, with nearly 2 million people logging on to have a look our cheese – who was eventually named Wedginald!

The story was picked up everywhere, by all the big media outlets (British broadsheet newspapers, BBC radio and TV) as well as across Europe and in America. Just look at some of these links, from The GuardianBBC NewsNorway's Dag Bladet, and even the New York Times. To this day, 'Wedginald' has his own Wikipedia page and he/it became quite the celebrity, with appearances on BBC Children In Need and Glastonbury Festival, a Valentine's card from the US and a signed rugby ball from the England Rugby Team. It all went a bit mental.

Wedginald and his high-tech webcam 'rig'

Wedginald and his high-tech webcam 'rig'

And what became of Wedginald? Well, obviously he couldn't just mix back in with our other Cheddars, not with his new-found celebrity status. They'd turn on him for sure. So he was auctioned off by BBC Children In Need and was claimed by the highest bidder …in New Zealand! And that's where Wedginald ended up, flying first class courtesy of Air New Zealand to his new home on the other side of the world. I still don't really believe it myself, but it all happened! Tom.