I had often wondered how there could be so many types of cheese. Over 700 varieties in Britain alone, and hundreds more across the world – what makes them all unique? So I decided to visit the Wensleydale Creamery, at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, to find out more about my favourite food.
The Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Experience
I was at the Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Experience, which explores the history of local cheesemaking. Here I learnt that Wensleydale cheese was first produced in the 12th century and that, like so much in the Yorkshire Dales, it originated with the Cistercian monks. The recipe was brought over from France, and perfected at Jervaulx Abbey.
After the dissolution of the monasteries cheese was made in local farmhouses, and eventually it moved to large scale commercial manufacture. As I walked through the Cheese Museum I was able to see an old fashioned farmhouse kitchen and the tools used in traditional cheesemaking.
Making The Cheese
For me the most interesting thing was learning about how cheese is made today and why there are so many varieties. I had hoped to take a tour of the factory, but unfortunately this was not possible as the Creamery wasn’t making cheese that day.
However I was able to watch a film showing the manufacturing process from start to finish. This explained what makes each cheese unique. Apparently there are three variables – the kind and quality of milk used, the type of starter culture, and the method of production – and these enable the creation of hundreds of different sorts of cheese across the world.
Wensleydale Cheese Today
Today Wensleydale cheese is made from cows’ milk (although in the Middle Ages sheep’s milk was used), and it has a distinctive crumbly texture and creamy flavour. In 1995 the comic inventor Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) revealed that Wensleydale was his favourite cheese, and there has been a close association between the Creamery and the comedy duo ever since.
I walked through the cheese shop and sampled the different types of Wensleydale, including the “blended” varieties, which may incorporate fruit, garlic or ginger. And then it was time to try the restaurant, where we had a predictably cheesy meal, including a cheesecake full of crumbly cheese – delicious! (Eating cheese with sweet dishes is traditional here in Yorkshire, where it can accompany fruit cake or even apple pie.)
As I ate I looked out over the rolling countryside of the Yorkshire Dales. With such lush green grass it was no surprise that the cows produced creamy milk!
Visiting The Wensleydale Creamery
- Hawes is 91 km from Leeds, 103 km from York, and 118 km from Manchester. The nearest railway station is Garsdale (10 km), and there is a regular bus service throughout the Yorkshire Dales.
- The Wensleydale Creamery is open daily throughout the year. The Visitor Centre includes the Yorkshire Wensleydale Creamery Experience, a cheese shop and gift shop, and a restaurant and outdoor coffee shop. Their cheeses can also be purchased online.
- Cheese-making may not take place every day. If you are hoping to take the factory tour you may wish to check in advance.
- In recent years an annual Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival has been held at the Creamery. The next Festival is due to take place on 11-12 September 2021.
- When visiting the Wensleydale Creamery take some time to explore the village of Hawes, with its beautiful Dales setting, waterfalls and historic centre. The Dales Countryside Museum tells the story of the local people and their landscape, and Gayle Mill is an authentic cotton mill from the 18th century.