Traditional Cheddar

WORK STARTS ON THE NEW CHEESE CELLAR

A while back the limitations of our current cheese store/ageing room really started to get to us, especially as we were in the process of trying to perfect every stage of our cheesemaking. We wanted much better control over temperature and humidity than our current store could offer, so we looked around for the best solution.

The answer we were looking for turned out to be an underground cheese cellar – a large concrete bunker buried in the earth. Being fortunate enough to have a good sized clay hill along the boundary of the dairy, this seemed the perfect solution. It's just a shame that this was in 2008 and, with the recession kicking in and the banks reeling, there was no chance of getting a loan for such an adventurous expansion.

So we reluctantly shelved the idea and concentrated on tangible changes, such as improving the milking parlour down at Manor Farm and perfecting the grazing pasture, silage production and winter feed for the cows. We also rebuilt our little cheese shop here at the dairy, added a new product to the range (our lovely Somerset Ricotta) and built a new website.

But the underground cellar idea didn't leave us, and only made more sense as time went by. To have a cellar right here in the hillside, where the cool earth would help keep the temperature at between 10 and 12 degrees all year around, where we could divert our spring through the rooms to keep the humidity constant, where we'd have vastly more space to play with AND be able to have our packing and cutting room right where the cheeses mature… it just had to be done.

But we still weren't absolutely certain until we visited the Comté cellars of Fromageries Marcel Petite in the Jura Mountains of France. Established in 1966, this enormous cheese-ageing complex is built around an old Napoleonic fort 3600 feet up in an Alpine forest. Expanded over the years with multiple ageing suites built into the earth around the original fort, the affinage today stores a staggering 180,000 rounds of cheese. They even have a fleet of robot helpers who work day and night, lifting, washing and turning the cheeses to aid their maturation. We are indebted to the Petite family and their team for the time and knowledge they shared with us, our trips over there really helped sealed the decision in our minds.

So it's full steam ahead here at the dairy, with the second week of digging well underway and things moving on nicely. The hillside has all but disappeared and a new one has temporarily formed in the field behind. We also owe a big thanks to all our Westcombe neighbours for their patience and encouragement as we work to get the new cellar built and the next phase of Westcombe Dairy underway. Roll on springtime when we'll hopefully be ready to show it off!

Tom.

WESTCOMBE DAIRY AT THE ROYAL BATH & WEST SHOW

Me and Dad manning the Westcombe stall at The Royal Bath & West Show 2013 

Me and Dad manning the Westcombe stall at The Royal Bath & West Show 2013 

The Royal Bath and West Show is one of the biggest events on the Somerset agricultural calendar. Dating back 150 years, it's a proper historic event and one of the few remaining old-school farm shows left in the UK. At Westcombe Dairy we're very proud of our decade-long association with it.

Westcombe has picked up numerous awards and medals over our years of exhibiting at the Royal Bath & West, which is always an honour, but to be honest it's not really why we make the effort. The Bath & West is just a very special event, and if you've never been, make the next one a priority.

There's nothing quite like the Royal Bath & West Show. Aside for a trip to Wilkin's Cider Farm, there just aren't that many genuine Somerset experiences left. But the Bath & West has it all: from prize livestock displays and show-jumping, to sheep shearing trials, farming machinery demos and, of course, enough traditional Somerset food and drink to sink a ship!

Another trophy for our cheese!

Another trophy for our cheese!

The atmosphere at the Royal Bath & West is always great, with huge crowds coming out to join the fun and be part of one of the country’s biggest and best farming shows. It's a great opportunity to catch up with other producers, both old and new, and get stuck in meeting people.

Every year we pile our stall high with Westcombe Cheddar and Duckett's Aged Caerphilly, giving away loads of taster and pitting our lovely cheeses against the best the county has to offer.

So thanks to everyone who comes to say hello and buys some of our cheese – we're always blown away by people's response and it's always great to hear feedback from people on how they enjoy our cheeses.

Thanks also to the organisers and judges of the show, who have generously awarded our cheeses a raft of medals and trophies over the years. See you all again in 2015! Tom.

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.