A new, sweet and creamy Welsh sheep’s cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy
“The thing is with sheep’s milk, it is invariably quite sweet—so either you work around that, or you embrace it. Brefu Bach is a classic example of the latter,” says Nicolas of Neal’s Yard Dairy, slicing us both a sample and chewing thoughtfully.
The official tasting notes are fromage frais and honey—but Nicolas detects fruity, melon-like strains in its smooth, almost whipped cream-like paste. Made in north Wales with “the most interesting sheep’s milk it is possible to find” from heritage Welsh breeds, the Brefu Bach originates with ecology-specialist-turned-cheesemaker Carrie Rimes, and her disbelief upon discovering there was no ewe’s milk cheese tradition in that most traditional of sheep farming countries.
Carrie is deeply rooted in her community in north Wales, where she has lived and worked for 30 years after moving from Devon: the raw milk she uses comes from local sheep farmers, who are delighted by the extra income; financial support for the initial development of the cheese came from the local food technology centre in Llangefni. “It’s the sort of cheese you can just roll around your mouth,” enthuses Nicolas. “Sometimes sheep’s and goat’s cheeses have a slightly animal flavour to them—people say it is ‘goat-y’ or ‘sheep-y’—but the particular mould that is added to this cheese takes that away.”
It is a delicate mould—a fungus known as geotrichum candidum which, once applied to the set cheese, results in a mild taste and curiously brain-like texture. “It is very fragile, this fungus. It starts out pristine, but when it has been in our shop a few days, you can see other moulds from other cheeses just starting to creep in.”
They never get very far. No sooner has a batch of Brefu Bach been delivered than it’s flying off the counter, to be rehomed on a cheeseboard alongside fruit and, Nicolas suggests, other ewe’s milk cheeses. “I recommend a sweet accompaniment to this—not cured meats. Maybe figs, or even strawberries when they start coming into season.” After a long, hard winter of necessarily stodgy, savoury feasting, there is, after all, a lot to be said for embracing the sweet stuff.