Mention Hawes in Yorkshire to many cheese-lovers and they’ll think of the Wensleydale Creamery, a big old operation with viewing gallery, museum and gift shop to boot. But recently Ribblesdale Cheese caught my eye – mainly because all of the roads where I live are named after places in Lancashire, with Ribblesdale being one of them; the Ribble valley straddles both Yorkshire and Lancashire, a pretty perilous position for anywhere to take, quite frankly. (It’s fair to say the region has ‘history’.) Also based in Hawes, Ribblesdale Cheese is a slightly smaller operation, with just three staff but one sight of their snowy white goat’s cheese, set off with its brown rind, the colour of a smoky ceiling in an age-old pub and, as ever, size didn’t matter.
And so you can see why I fell for it amongst a sea of identical cheddar truckles:
Ribblesdale Goat’s Cheese is a hard, unpasteurised goat’s cheese made by Ribblesdale Cheese. As with so many of our great British artisan cheeses, its story starts back in the seventies when the embers of farmhouse cheese-making were starting to re-ignite after decades of neglect and government apathy. When Iain Hill was made redundant in 1978 he and his wife Christine bought two goats (Victoria and Maude) and, following the suggestion of a local vet, started making yoghurt and cheese. In 1982, Ribblesdale Goat’s Cheese was born. The business developed and the Hills started importing Dutch cheeses to sell but in 2006 Iain fell ill and asked his accountant niece Iona to value the business. Unfortunately he passed away soon after but by then Iona had fallen for cheese in a big way and in 2007 she took over the business and decided to start making cheese again.
Ribblesdale Cheese now uses some 180,000 litres of goat milk a year from a local farmer and produces about 20 tonnes of cheese a year, the vast majority goat’s but also a small proportion of sheep and cow’s. Their range includes a Wensleydale, sheep’s cheeses and blue cheeses (as well as a new ‘mystery cheese, soon to be unveiled!) All of the cheese is hand-made, from stirring the milk to cutting the curds. They have their own smoking unit where they smoke 36 cheeses at a time over oak chips from the local brewery. The process takes a languorous six hours and results in the delicious taste of bonfires and autumn evenings that traditional smoking seems to give to cheese (sorry if that’s me going a bit ‘Hovis ad’ on you but I really do find smoky cheese evocative!)
Ribblesdale Goat is a lovely creamy cheese, often compared to a young Gouda and not overly goaty, although after a couple of days it had a slight tang to it. The smokiness of it was apparent though – it travelled from East Anglia to London with a Stinking Bishop and held its own remarkably well, which is quite an achievement for any good cheese.