A brand new, cider brandy-washed cheese from Trethowan’s dairy
“To be honest, it was really a mistake at first,” says Todd Trethowan of the luminous washed rind cheese sitting squatly in front of me. Together with his brother, Maugan, the cheesemaker had spent decades developing their signature Gorwydd Caerphilly, to the point where its perfect consistency was earning multiple awards.
You can well imagine his dismay when, on a routine storeroom check eight years ago, Todd found several of their ripening caerphillys developing a fine dusting of an orange mould, known as b-linens. “It’s latent in the atmosphere but it favours damp conditions, like the mould on your shower curtain.” Unlike your shower curtain, however, when Todd and Maugan came to try the cheese they were surprised to find it wasn’t—well, gross.
In fact, it was “lovely,” Todd laughs. Though not quite fit for sale yet, it was more than good enough for their own consumption—so the talented brothers started experimenting. They washed it, trying first with salt water, then cider, then cider brandy, to encourage the bacteria to settle and develop the rind. They played with different shapes and sizes: the cheese you’ll see today is far shallower than when it started out.
Of course, being farmhouse cheesemakers, they use the same milk as they do for the caerphilly, sourced solely from their small herd of pedigree organic Holsteins and Jerseys—and they use the same hard-pressed, two months-matured make.
But where their caerphillly is naturally-rinded, citrusy and clean tasting with a slightly creamy, crumbly texture, their Wendolyn—as Todd and Maugan eventually dubbed it, after their late mother—is pungent and squidgy, with just a narrow pale layer of harder, caerphilly-like cheese running through it, like a relic of what it might have been.
What a difference bacteria make. Just by washing the outside of a cheese, Todd can transform it entirely. “You paint it and this beautiful orange rind appears,” he says—like invisible ink, but with b-linens. The effects on the inside are just as dramatic: the texture softening, the taste deepening and the smell thickening such that it barely resembles its pale, citrusy cousin. “It is like alchemy,” he marvels.
Though similar to Stinking Bishop in colour and texture, the make of these cheeses is so different the comparison is quite invalid. “It’s more of a cross,” says Roi on the stall, “between Irish cheeses Gubbeen, Cardo, Durrus and Ardrahan.”
Roi has worked in cheese for many years, both continental and British: yet he’s never seen anything quite like Wendolyn. The hint of cider brandy, sourced from legendary cider maker Julian Temperley up the road, adds a further boozy twist to the brilliant rind. “I do believe there is something about the terroir of an area, and cider is very much associated with Somerset,” Todd says. “This is a nice marriage.”
Six months ago, about eight years after its accidental inception, Wendolyn won gold at the British Cheese Awards. Since then it’s been selling out rapidly. Some might say this is a classic case of learning from your mistakes; we say, if at first you don’t succeed, add cider brandy.