Wensleydale Creamery

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February, 2020

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Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of only a very few of the Yorkshire Dales not to be named after it’s river, instead taking it’s name from the old market village of Wensley. Actually, the dale used to be called Yoredale in the distant past, a corruption of Ure, which is the major river.

Apart from staggeringly beautiful countryside all around, Wensleydale is famous for it’s cheese production.

The cheese making expertise dates back at least to 1150 when French Cistercian monks settled in the area and produced the first standardised Wensleydale cheese, though farmers in the area were making variations of it for centuries before, even back to Roman times.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII between 1536 and 1540, the standardised recipe used by the monks became the trademark cheese of the area after local farmers adopted it.

Edward Chapman set up the first purpose built commercial creamery in 1897, utilising the rich milk produced by limestone based grass fed herds from local farms.
By the financially troubled 1930’s, the creamery was in dire straits and local businessman Kit Calvert stepped in to revitalise it. By getting local farmers on board, persuading them to invest their hard earned cash in the mutually beneficial project, he succeeded.

In 1966, Kit retired and sold the business to Northern Dairies.
Dairy Crest became the later owners but due to dwindling sales, they closed the Hawes creamery in 1992. Far-sighted managers and a local businessman made a management buyout just six months later and the success story has been on an upward curve ever since.

In Nick Park’s 1995 animated Wallace and Gromit film ‘A Close Shave’, Wallace proclaimed Wensleydale to be his favourite cheese and sales sky-rocketed.These characters are now central to it’s promotion.

Amazingly, Wensleydale cheese does not have protected geographical status under European Union law and it can be produced anywhere.However in 2013, Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese was granted such status and is the only Wensleydale cheese allowed to bear the Yorkshire name.If you do buy Wensleydale cheese, make sure it is the original Yorkshire version.
During the Brexit transition period to the end of 2020, the EU rules on geographic protection will continue to apply and after transition, these same rules will become British law.

Cheesy quiz fact: Stilton cheese originated in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and is regionally protected.Around the 1750’s, blue veined cheese made in Leicestershire was bought by a publican in Stilton and this became so popular with locals and travelers that it became known as Stilton cheese, taking on the name of the place where it was sold, rather than where it was produced.
Nowadays, cheese made in Stilton, Cambridgeshire cannot be sold as Stilton cheese, even though it may be the same recipe, because of this regional protection.

Wensleydale Creamery’s extensive new premises were opened in 2015 and the company now employs more than 200 staff. Today, the creamery gets it’s milk from 45 local dairy farms, all within 40 miles of the creamery. It takes 8 pints of milk to produce one 500g tub of cheese so it is no wonder that they get through millions of gallons of milk a year.

Included in the new, much larger premises is the highly regarded Calvert’s Restaurant which is where I headed for one of their celebrated lunches.
Before the highly anticipated lunch however, we headed off for a trip around the interactive visitor centre to watch the cheeses being made on an industrial scale, try hands-on games and use learning stations. Great for kids to see where cheese comes from and how it is produced.

The Demo room gives the chance to see the cheese making process close up.
This was presented by a genuinely funny guy, almost a stand-up comedian who made the process, it’s history and current production so memorable and entertaining.
We then headed for the tasting room, to fill up on this wonderfully nutty and crumbly product.I was amazed to find eighteen, yes, eighteen different varieties of cheese to sample.I did my best to restrain myself before lunch but was tempted by many.
Once seated in the comfortable and airy Calvert’s restaurant we admired the countryside views through the large picture windows before ordering.

I chose the bacon chops, which arrived as two hearty chunks of tender bacon ladled with hot apple chutney, all of which was smothered in melted Wensleydale ‘hot and spicy’ cheese.A lovely fresh. pure white crunchy coleslaw, a salad topped with pickled red cabbage and a pile of fluffy, crunchy chips were the perfect accompaniments.
I have to say that this was one of the tastiest main courses I have eaten in some time.
Across the table, my wife went for the roasted vegetable and Wensleydale cranberry cheese tart, a large round puff pastry base topped with the aforementioned veg and cheese. This came with a lovely salad and a dish of tomato relish. Excellent food.
Desserts consisted of a sherry trifle or pineapple upside down cake. The latter won both of us over and came as a wedge of light, buttery sponge, topped – or bottomed- with chunks of almost caramelised pineapple. The choices of cream, ice cream or custard were almost too much, but we soldiered on gamefully. Truly and delightfully delicious.

Best of all, the two course menu was only £9.95 each.Such a bargain for the quality of food. There is an a la carte menu too.
A separate cafe in the adjacent room has the same great views.

A Yorkshire culinary quirk at Christmas is to have a wedge of Wensleydale cheese atop a slice of Christmas cake. I know this seems strange to some visitors from outside the County, but it really is a taste revelation. You can buy combination packs of this in the extensive gift shop on site. Go on, give it a try, you will be converted!
More cheese Gromit?

For further information have a look at www.wensleydale.co.uk , whilst your sat-nav will find it at DL83 3RN. Whichever direction you arrive from you will be surrounded by beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

Hawes itself is a quaint and interesting place, with a river and waterfall right in the centre, a rope making mill (free admission), the Dales Countryside Museum and a handful of independent shops and cafes all close to hand. Enough here to make a full day of it.What a hugely entertaining and informative, not to say tasty visit this was.
As Wallace himself might say “Eeee, a grand day out”.


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