The Fine Cheese Co. visit Hafod Cheese-makers
Being a Somerset cheese company means we’re joined at the hip to our local Cheddar makers: from the mighty Montgomery’s to the wonderful Westcombe.
Because of this, getting my West Country colleagues to take on a Welsh Cheddar was on the impossible side of difficult.
But there it now rests, on our bowing spruce boards and in its rightful place: Hafod (pronounced Havod – meaning summer pasture in Welsh) - one of the finest Cheddars made in the UK.
Having adopted their cheese, I thought it was about time the sales team I and (Ollie, Gabi and Flo) paid our Welsh neighbours a visit to spend a gruelling 12 hours with Sam helping him turn his milk into Hafod. We started bright and early helping milk the cows. Although Ollie wasn’t too impressed when he got on the wrong side of one: his brand new jeans were a little muddied to say the least!
Soon after milking was finished we got hands-on in the cheese-making room helping to set the curd before a exhausting day spent cutting, blocking and stacking curd until Sam achieved his desired acidity and leathery texture. A quick break for home-made Pizza by his wife Rachel and it was back to the production room to mill (tear-up) the curds. Once salted and packed into moulds, we left it to press overnight. Hafod cheese-making was finished for us, but they won’t be ready for another year: we’ve already put our names down for them!
Hafod began production in 2007 when Sam Holden, and his wife, Rachel, returned from their life in “The City” to join their father, Patrick, on the family farm.
35 years ago Patrick was one of the first organic farmers in the country and one of the forefathers of the organic movement.
He has a small herd of 65 Ayrshire cows and is passionate about quality, feed, produce and animals - it’s a attitude that runs through the family.
Many years ago Patrick used to sell his milk to a local cheesemaker: Dougal Campbell, so naturally when Sam returned to the farm it was Douglas’s recipe they followed to start cheese making themselves.
Since then Hafod has gone from strength to strength - helped by the quality of their unpasteurised Ayrshire cows’ milk and Sam’s natural feel for cheese making.
Ayrshire milk is the perfect milk for making cheese. It has more and smaller particles of butterfat allied to a greater protein content when compared with the milk of the ubiquitous
black and white Holstein-Friesians that dot our landscape. However Ayrshire cows produce much less milk and therefore less cheese, a reason many farmers abandoned them in favour of Fresians.
All this means Sam only makes 90kg a day (nine x10kg cheeses), which is far less than the smallest Somerset producers who will make over 500kg.
Even if Sam wanted to expand, he couldn’t – he is confined by the limits of his land and his desire to continue with Ayrshire cows and quality organic pasture.
Instead of growth Sam thinks the only direction to go is to make his Cheddar the best in the UK and who can argue with that ambition?
That means experimenting with old recipes in his quest and although this means long gruelling days, Sam’s future is promising. His experiments are exciting and his young cheeses made to these traditional methods are exciting too. A definite one to watch.