Caws Teifi have been making award winning artisan cheeses for 30 years. Chris Williams went along to Glynhynod Farm, the home of Teifi Farmhouse Cheese, to find out about the process that makes these cheeses so unique.
Glynhynod Farm is tucked away down a narrow lane just outside Llandysul in Ceredigion. The farm is not just a vibrant working farmhouse but is also home to artisan cheese maker John Savage Onstwedder and his family. John moved to Wales from The Netherlands and started production Teifi Farmhouse Cheeses in 1982. Over the years the farm and buildings have been lovingly adapted to meet the varied demands of family life and a thriving cheese business. By 2004, the cheese making had to be moved to a more spacious purpose built building at the farm allowing the original building to accommodate a new artisan distillery which John also proudly showed me round during my visit.
With Dutch and Scottish parentage John tells me it was inevitable his future lay in cheese and whisky making.
On arrival at the farm I was whisked into the dairy where cheese makers Tim, Jamie and Anya had already started making the day’s batch of Caerphilly in the presence of a group of visiting German tourists. Visitors are always welcomed at Glynhynod which prides itself on being a family friendly facility.
Production starts each day at 6am when the milk arrives from a local dairy farm. Cheese is made by coagulating milk to produce curds (solids) and whey (liquid). Teifi Cheeses are all made with raw milk and vegetarian rennet, which is added to the milk to achieve the coagulation.
The milk is heated to a temperature of 30°C before the rennet is added. Coagulation takes about 30 minutes and it’s then time to “cut the curd”, stirring for 45 minutes whilst breaking the curd down into pea sized pieces. The whey is then drained off and the remaining curd left to “pitch” or rest for 25 minutes. Just time for a coffee break!
Once rested it’s time to start the back breaking work of hand filling the cheese moulds. The day’s delivery of 1200 litres of milk makes approximately 150 cheeses, each weighing about 1kg. They’re e all hand filled and there’s no weighing and measuring involved. The team know instinctively the level to fill each mould to before it gets set aside to be readied for the pressing process.
With Tim and Jamie continuing to fill moulds, Anya started to prepare the cheeses for pressing. The moulds were stacked about 5 high then each stack secured in a grey tube. The series of little grey chimney stacks were then adeptly picked up and whisked over to the presses where they would remain till the next morning, some 18 hours or so.
The presses used at Caws Teifi are rather beautiful, traditional pieces of equipment. The team explained that having manual control of the presses enables total control of the pressing process. Too much pressure at the early stage of pressing can affect the flavour of the cheese resulting in a bitter taste, so the pressure gets increased slowly till all the whey is squeezed out and a firm, solid cheese remains.
Conscious that an awful lot of whey had been drained off during the cheese making I was curious to know if it was just waste product or if it could be used in any way. I was reassured that waste was kept to a minimum with the residual whey being taken by a local pig farmer where it was a valuable food supplement for the pigs. The food chain is a wonderful thing!
With all the cheeses packed and pressing underway, Anya explained the next stages of the cheese production showing me what can best be described as a Spa for young cheeses. Each cheese is bathed in a brine bath over a period of time before being put into the “cave” to dry and ripen. The temperature and humidity levels in the “cave” are strictly controlled to ensure the cheeses ripen and mature and the right rate and I was allowed in to see the various stages of maturity, evident by the colouration of the rind.
Once in the cave the cheeses continue to be nurtured and cared for until they reach the desired maturity. The Caerphilly cheeses that were made that morning would most likely be ready for market in November.
Teifi Cheeses come in a variety of flavours : Teifi Plain, Mature, Extra-Mature, Sweet-Pepper, Cumin, Nettle, Garlic, Garlic and Onion, Teifi Blue, Caerphilly, Mature Caerphilly, Celtic Promise and Saval Washed Rind Cheeses. All are available in a range of sizes: Mini (450g), Baby (1kg), 4kg, 6kg, 8kg, 10kg, 12kg. The cheeses can also be supplied as Celebration Cheese Cakes, stacked and decorated for any special event. The cheeses are sold at the farm shop, farmers markets and through specialist delis. Caws Teifi also have a stall at Borough Market in London.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Caws Teifi to see the work that goes in to producing these superb cheeses. It’s a great opportunity to connect with real food produced by hand with the finest local ingredients.
For full details of Teifi Farmhouse Cheeses visit the website www.teificheese.co.uk