A traditional cloth-bound West Country cheese from Trethowan’s Dairy
Historically, most West Country cheesemakers produced cheddar, before embarking on a cheese more commonly associated with their friends across the Welsh border: caerphilly. Cheddar takes over a year to mature—sometimes longer—while caerphilly can be turned around in a month or less. In leaner times, particularly between the first and second world wars, sales of caerphilly provided a steady flow of income while they waited for the cheddar to age.
Todd and Maugan Trethowan, however, are not most West Country cheesemakers. For one thing, they are Welsh by birth, having grown up on their family farm near Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion. They made their signature mature Gorwydd Caerphilly at that farm for 20 years before they moved to Somerset in 2014—quite literally in pursuit of greener pastures and the better milk that comes with them.
Once there, in their purpose-built dairy a mere six miles away from the gorge from which cheddar takes its name, they decided to put their shoulders to a wheel—or 10. “It’s very difficult to get a new cheddar off the ground,” says Lucy Menter of Trethowan’s Dairy. “It has required huge investment, as it takes a year to mature, so all the milk and production costs of the first year saw no return for that period. But we made it through the first year and the feedback has been excellent—the cheese won gold in the mature cheddar category at the World Cheese Awards.”
Though at the moment they are only producing in tiny batches—“11 to 12 cheeses, each weighing 25kg”—they are in the process of increasing production to meet demand.
Bound in cloth
Pitchfork is organic. That might not sound remarkable in the context of an organic mecca like the Market, but in the context of the world of cheddar it is, like the Trethowans, extraordinary. “There aren’t many organic cheddars that are traditionally made in this way,” explains Lucy—‘this way’ being the farmhouse method, handmade in an open vat in small batches before binding the cheeses in cloth and maturing them for a year. The milk is raw, unpasteurised, milked each morning from their herd of holstein and jersey cows who graze on the farm’s organic pastures.
The name, Pitchfork, is “a reference to the old farming tools used to toss the curd while mixing in the salt”—a practice the Trethowans have since resurrected, imbuing their new-old cheddar with romance and history.
The cheese comes bound in cloth: you can see the carefully balanced wheels at Neal’s Yard Dairy, or towering at the stall in the Market alongside dusty white rounds of caerphilly. The judges at the World Cheese Awards were right: this is a truly exceptional cheddar, in what is an exceptionally competitive field. Full bodied, nutty, sweet and crumby with a creamy texture that rolls around the mouth. It could as easily wed an oatcake as it could a welsh rarebit. “We’ve been caerphilly-makers for more than 20 years, so it’s been really exciting to make a new cheese,” says Lucy, “and even more exciting that it’s been so well received.”