Like all farmhouse cheeses, pale and handsome Wensleydale would once have been made with unpasteurised milk. As recently as 1939, says our supplier, David Hartley from the Wensleydale Creamery, there were 173 farmhouse cheesemakers in Wensleydale and the neighbouring valleys. All would have used raw farm milk. “By the end of World War II they’d all packed up,” he says. Unpasteurised milk can bring a richer, more complex taste to the finished cheese but its use in Wensleydale had all but died out before the Wensleydale Creamery decided to develop a version using milk from a single farm, Raygill, near Hawes. “We have never, ever made raw milk cheese in the past 20 years,” says David. “It’s completely new to us. It’s a challenge, but I think it is worth doing.”
What’s the story?
The history of Wensleydale cheesemaking begins with Cistercian monks, who kept sheep. Over time, this mild, sharp cheese began to be made with cow’s milk instead and the best-known modern maker of Wensleydale is our supplier, the Wensleydale Creamery. David Hartley, from the Creamery, says, “Over the years we had been challenged to think about doing an unpasteurised raw milk cheese and getting back to the tradition of cheesemaking in the area, which was all about making it on a farm and using a single farm’s milk and animal rennet.” Farmer William Lambert is supplying milk from his Ayrshire herd and, although it has proved impossible to make the unpasteurised cheese on a farm, it is being produced in small batches at Iona Hill’s tiny dairy, Ribblesdale Cheese, in Hawes.
With unpasteurised milk famed for bringing rich complexity and sometimes unpredictability to finished cheeses, David – and his friend and enthusiastic supporter, our chairman Edwin Booth – is excited about the results of this new project. “It’s a Wensleydale, so we want it to be fresh,” says David. “But with the raw milk we’re looking for more complex flavours and it is matured for longer, for about 16 to 20 weeks. We’re pretty confident that it’s different, and people are going to buy it because it’s got a particular flavour.”