Since setting out on my mission to chomp my way through and learn about as many cheeses of the British Isles as I can (there are about 700 at the last count…and I’m not sure that includes Ireland…so I could be some time…) I’ve tried to ensure I represent a mix of different cheeses. Cow, sheep, goat, buffalo. Hard, soft and the various states of squidginess inbetween. Raw and pasteurised. But I know that I’ve been very rubbish indeed when it comes to geography and anywhere outside of England is getting a raw deal of it. This is purely down to what’s available where I shop, rather than any kind of cheese separatism but I know I need to try harder. So, this week, in the spirit of union, I bring you Teifi:
Teifi is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese, produced by Caws Teifi on Glynhynod Farm in Ceredigion, South Wales (‘caws’ is Welsh for cheese; ‘Teifi’ is the name of the river that flows through the valley). It’s a very beautiful and fertile valley, renowned for its dairies and cheese-making; even back in the nineteenth century the area supplied London with milk. I have to admit I had a chuckle though when I read on one website that ‘most people know this corner of Wales just for its coracles and sewin’; I fear the authors may be being a tad optimistic thinking most people even know what a coracle or sewin are (fact-fans, a coracle is a traditional, flat-bottomed boat made from willow and a sewin is a sea-trout).
Caws Teifi was established by Dutch Cheese makers John and Patrice Savage-Onstwedder and Paula van Werkhoven who moved to Glynhynod Farm from the Netherlands in 1981. The following year they began cheese-making, at a time when making artisan cheese with raw milk was rare in Wales; John is now regarded as a real pioneer in the resurgence of Welsh artisan cheese-making. The milk is all obtained from local farms, the cows grazing on herby pastures that adds characteristic flavour to their cheese. Their Dutch heritage came to the fore in their decision to make Teifi, a Gouda-style cheese. Goudas are washed curd cheeses, which means that whey is removed and replaced with hot water, which ‘washes’ the curds. This process removes the lactose (milk sugars), keeping the acidity of the cheese low and retaining moisture; this results in the distinctive sweet and nutty taste of such cheeses. As well as making a Dutch cheese, they also use Dutch cheese-making equipment, including a hand press that enables them to control the pressure.
As with other Goudas, the taste and texture of Teifi changes according to how long it is aged for. Young cheeses are sweet and creamy whereas much older cheeses become hard and almost brittle with a caramel-like taste (see Reypenaer VSOP). Teifi is also available with Seaweed (Welsh Laverbread), Nettle, Cumin Seed, Garlic and Onion, and Sweet Pepper. The Seaweed variety is legendary for being a favourite of the late Pavarotti who tried it when performing at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod!
My slice seemed neither particularly young nor aged but had a definite ‘tang’, as the lady who sold it to me, described it; ‘tang’ is a bit of an understatement as this cheese was a bit of a palate-burner. I could definitely taste something akin to mocha coffee in there, as well as something a bit, well, meadowy. Towards the (inedible) rind was sweeter and nuttier. It’s a moreish cheese that saw me putting it back in the fridge and then ferreting it back out an hour later.
Caws Teifi, as well as making a selection of cheeses, also has its own organic whisky and brandy distillery. The producers are keen to encourage visitors so that people can find out about what they’re making, which to me sounds like just about the perfect way to spend a Welsh afternoon (Rhyl Sun Centre excepted, obviously).
Caws Hapus Dydd Gwener!
With additional research from Fork2Fork and Traditional Cheesemaking in Wales by Eurwen Richards.