On the trail of Devon’s cheeses

Quickes cheesemaker Malcolm Mitchell

Quickes cheesemaker Malcolm Mitchell - Credit: Archant

With the help of the British Cheese Board, CLARE BOURKE looks at some of the county’s cheese producers and discovers why this humble food will always be a firm favourite

Parkham Farms is proud of its award-winning history

Parkham Farms is proud of its award-winning history - Credit: Archant

In the UK, we consume annually 700,000 tonnes of cheese - around 30g each per day. It comes in many forms, from hard cheese that’s perfect for grating to cottage cheese to grace a humble salad, and in Devon there is a long history charting our love of cheeses of all types and tastes.

And if you want to join the growing number of people ‘buying local’, there are plenty of places in Devon where you can do just that.

Nigel White, Secretary of the British Cheese Board, says: “We never recommend people should buy locally-made cheese just because it is local. What we do suggest is that you try it and hopefully you will be sufficiently pleased that you will go on buying it and trying all of the other cheeses being made in your local area.

“Regardless of where you go in the UK, the odds are pretty good that you will find cheeses that you have not heard of or tried before. So there is a journey of discovery for everyone to experience and in the case of your local cheeses, a chance to meet the people who make and sell them in your local markets.”

Meet the producers

Peter Willes, Director of Parkham Farms, Woolsery, Bideford

How long have you been producing cheeses?

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We are a family-based business that has been making cheese on the farm since 1984. Parkham Farms currently milk 2,500 cows and make over 6,000 tonnes of Cheddar that is sold to Tesco for its own label mature and extra mature lines.

We have 32 farms in total that all work closely with Tesco to provide sustainable milk prices to give our farmers the confidence to invest for their families’ future in top quality British Dairy Farming.

What makes your product stand out from others?

Our flavour of cheese is distinctive with a complex taste that stands out from other cheese makers. My favourite is the extra mature that has a full and exciting flavour.

Which is your best-selling cheese?

The best-selling is the mature Cheddar that typifies the need for a good value British product, that they know where and how it is made. Parkham Farms is well-known on the show circuit, winning Gold at Bath and West and Nantwich cheese shows in 2013 for our creamery Cheddar.

How important is it for communities to support local suppliers/producers?

With a growing population in the world, it is imperative that the British agriculture and food sectors rise to the challenge to prevent food becoming unaffordable, or unavailable to large areas of the globe. There are many challenges in running a country-based businesses; location, road infrastructure, workforce, and many new targets and goals being set on efficiency, cost control and carbon footprint.

All businesses that want to succeed in the future are already addressing these issues and it is important that local people, local councils and businesses work together to find solutions, to secure the future of jobs, products, and outlets for all our local farmers products, milk, livestock and crops.

Parkham has invested significantly to reduce energy use, enhance values of our products, and generally make our business compete with any potential imports. We have to continue to do this as our industry needs to grow and thrive in the UK. I am the owner of our business, and have been farming since I could walk, and will be farming for as long as I can walk.

Tom Chatfield, Sales & Marketing Manager, Quickes, Newton St Cyres

How long have you been producing cheeses?

For over 450 years the Quicke family has owned and cared for the farm at Newton St Cyres in Devon. Here, 40 years ago, Sir John Quicke and his wife, Prue (the 13th generation of Quickes to farm at Home Farm), built the dairy where their daughter (Devon Life columnist Mary Quicke) continues to produce outstanding cheese and other dairy products today - supported by her team of dedicated cheese makers, led by Malcolm Mitchell.

What makes your product stand out from others?

Mary’s passion for her dairy herd and artisan cheese making methods means that every bite of Quickes cheese is full of flavour - meeting the team’s exacting standards. The cheese making process is labour intensive and reliant on human senses - every vat is tasted to ensure consistent flavour.

The cheese is then wrapped in muslin cloth and allowed to breathe in the cheese stores - where it matures and develops its depth of flavour.

Flavour is what defines Quickes cheese. Quickes is a truly unique and complex traditional Cheddar, with a recognisable butteryness and a mellow punch of intensity.

Milk is the most important ingredient and has to be constantly managed to ensure consistent quality.

The Quickes dairy herd is a hybrid of the Kiwi Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliard (the result of a 15-year breeding programme) and the cows are left to graze the lush Devonshire pastures.

Which is your best-selling cheese?

Quickes Mature Cheddar. At 12 to 15 months the outstanding depth of flavour is now evident. The clothbound cheese has been allowed to breathe during this time, resulting in the hallmark rind and intensity on the palate.

The milk from the grass-fed cows helps the cheese to retain butteryness both in texture and taste. The gradual maturation leads to long-lasting flavours. Quickes Mature Cheddar won a first and Best Traditional Cheese at the Bath and West Show 2013. Mary Quicke’s personal favourite is Quickes Vintage Cheddar.

The Cheddars that are kept until 24 months to the Vintage maturity are selected from the most balanced of the Mature Cheddars. At two years these are the oldest in the Quickes Cheddar collection.

Some more to try…

Oakdown Farm, Trusham, Newton Abbot

Oakdown Farm, in the Teign Valley near Newton Abbot, is run by Max and Jackie Pillar where they keep their small herd of free range dairy goats. With their fresh unpasteurised milk they produce a subtle, creamy soft fresh goat’s cheese. They also make a mild hard cheddar type goat’s cheese.

Cheese produced – Goat’s Cheese

Taw Valley Creamery, North Tawton

Since 1974 the Taw Valley Creamery, now a part of Arla Foods, has been producing award-winning cheese and continues to combine fresh local ingredients with a wealth of cheese making experience.

Situated in the heart of the Devon countryside, surrounded by lush green grass and rolling hills, the milk that goes into the creamery is collected from more than 700 dairy farms, many of which are located within a 30-mile radius.

Cheeses produced – Cheddars, including Taw Valley Tasty Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Tickler

Ticklemore Cheese, Totnes

The award-winning cheeses at Ticklemore are made from three different types of milk – from cows, sheep and goats. Robin Congdon was one of the first pioneers in the 1970s to revive the tradition of milking sheep in the UK, starting with 30 sheep on a smallholding near Exeter and initially producing yoghurt and soft cheeses. This led to a partnership with Maurice Ash and a larger farm alongside the River Dart.

Here Robin developed Beenleigh Blue (ewe’s milk) named after the hamlet in which it was first made and later Harbourne Blue (goat’s milk) named after the tributary of the Dart which flows through Beenleigh. Several years later he created Devon Blue using the cows’ milk of a neighbouring farmer.

Cheeses produced – Devon Blue, Beenleigh Blue, Harbourne Blue

Sharpham Dairy, near Totnes

This 1,000-year-old farm consists of 500 acres owned by the Sharpham Trust. From 1981 the 18th century coachyard of Sharpham House was home to a creamery where a range of hand made cheeses were produced.

Using the rich milk from their Jersey cattle and vegetarian rennet, the unpasteurised cheeses were well received and in April 2003 production moved into a new purpose-built creamery next to the winery, which produces world class wines that perfectly compliment the cheeses produced.

Cheese produced – Sharpham soft cheese, Rustic, Elmhirst, Ticklemore Goat, Savour

Curworthy Cheese, Jacobstowe, Okehampton

At historic Stockbeare Farm, surrounded by Devon countryside, Rachel Stephens produces full-fat semi-hard cheeses in a number of taste combinations. The milk for the cheese come from the farm’s heard of Friesian cows to produce a creamy cheese with a light buttery taste when young and full-flavoured when aged, with no colouring or preservatives. Cheeses produced include Devon Oke, made from a traditional 17th century recipe and Belstone, a vegetarian version.

Cheeses produced – Devon Oke, Traditional Curworthy, Meldon, Chipple, Dartmoor Chillie

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