We caught up with Ben and Sam at Curlew Dairy who are the makers of the incredible Old Roan Wensleydale cheese.
Ben and Sam began making Old Roan Wensleydale in 2019 on their family farm in Wensleydale. The cheese grew in popularity quickly and was soon stocked in cheese delis across the UK. In 2021, Old Roan won a silver award at the Artisan Cheese Awards.
Read on to find out more about Ben and Sam and their fabulous cheese…
How did you get into cheese making?
We were both in finance in Manchester (Ben an accountant, Sam an actuary). We decided that we wanted to move out of the city to raise a family, and wanted to run our own business. Ben grew up a family farm in Wensleydale and so on speaking to the farm's milk buyer, David Hartley one day on the phone, he suggested there was a gap in the market for an unpasteurised Wensleydale. Once we started to look into it and met lots of friendly, passionate people in the artisan cheese community, we were hooked!
Why did you choose to make Wensleydale as opposed to other types of cheese?
There seemed a big gap in the market for an unpasteurised Wensleydale actually made in Wensleydale. As that’s where Ben grew up it seemed rude not to! Wensleydale for us had always been the acidic crumbly cheese you would associate with Wallace and Gromit. We had a desire to bring it back to how it was historically – unpasteurised, cloth bound and with a softer, creamy texture.
Describe a typical day at Curlew dairy.
Ben collects the milk from a local farm at 5am. He pops into the milking parlour and has a quick catch up with the farmer. With unpasteurised cheese any changes on the farm (eg cows turning out into the fields for spring, or new calven cows) can impact the cheese, so this allows us to adjust our recipe if needed.
The milk is heated in the vat and starter culture added by 8am. This allows us to have breakfast with our 3 children, and do the school run. Next we add the rennet, and as this sets we clean all our equipment ready for the make – we always say that cheesemaking is 90% cleaning! The curds are cut and the whey drained then we have our lunch while we are waiting for the acidity to rise.
After lunch is when the hard work begins – turning, cutting and milling the curds before putting it into moulds to be pressed overnight. We’re typically finished by about 3pm – just in time for the school run again!
How would you describe your Old Roan Wensleydale cheese to someone who had never tried it before?
Old Roan has all the lemon, yogurt acidity you would expect from a Wensleydale, with mineral, earthy tones closer to the rind. Unlike crumbly Wensleydale, we use a traditional slow recipe which gives it a much softer, creamier texture. It has an open texture and melts exceedingly well on cheese on toast.
How do you choose to enjoy your Old Roan?
Old Roan melts beautifully, so our favourite way is melted on sourdough toast with a bit of balsamic vinegar. We also love it the traditional way to enjoy a Wensleydale – on fruit cake with a thick layer of butter!