Todd Trethowan became interested in making cheese after a stint working behind the counter at Neal’s Yard Dairy back in the eighties. During this time he met lots of cheese-makers and began working for a Welsh cheddar maker called Dougal Campbell, to support himself through his archaeology degree. His passion for cheese making grew and he went to work with other producers, most notably the late Chris Duckett, in Somerset.
Chris was a third generation Caerphilly maker and by the 1990′s one of the only people making Caerphilly in a traditional way, by hand and on the farm. Todd lived in a draughty old caravan in Chris’s farmyard for 6 months, while Chris passed on his recipe and everything he himself had learnt from his mother and grandmother about making Caerphilly. Todd returned to the family farm in Wales and set up a small dairy in the former cow sheds and began to make cheese on a very small scale, just as his own grandmother had done as a farm servant near the town of Caerphilly. When Todd started out, he made four 4kg wheels a day, now a team of 5 make forty five 4kg wheels a day with 1,500 litres of milk.
“My first day in my own dairy was the 29th June 1996. It was hot outside. I felt nervous. The most surprising thing was releasing the press the next morning and knocking four Christmas cake-sized cheeses out of their moulds. They looked like cheeses! They smelt sweet, a little sharp, lactic and fresh. I was staggered that after just one day, I’d managed to a make a few cheeses that looked like they were supposed to look.”
Gorwydd Caerphilly took off, and began to be sold at Specialist cheese shops and deli counters around the country. As the business grew, Todd’s brother Maugan joined and they began to look for more staff. They were joined by New Zealand cheese maker and monger Kim, who soon became very much part of the business and then the family, when she and Maugan got married.
Gorwydd Caerphilly started out being made with vegetarian rennet and with Freisian-Holstein milk from a few neighbouring farms. As Todd and Maugan worked on the recipe, they soon changed to single farm milk (which gave them more control over the cheese) and traditional rennet (giving a creamier texture and a fuller flavour). Changes like these required a slow, scientific approach, patience, obsessive record keeping and the discipline to make only one change (among limitless combinations) at a time. Furthermore, they had to wait weeks to find out what those first cheeses would be like, and whether each small change would indeed improve the recipe.
One thing that has never changed is the handmade nature of the cheese. Maugan says, “We always use our hands, if we used the mechanical stirrers or had a closed vat, we wouldn’t feel the difference in the milk and the cheese from one month to the next. In autumn and winter when the cows are eating silage, grains and hay, the milk develops different characteristics to summer or spring milk. Its high butter fat content at this time of year makes the curd feel silky in your hands. During the spring, animals are eating young grasses and flowers, which produce floral and grassy characteristics in the cheese. In the summer, the grasses are full of beta-carotene, which affects both the flavour and colour of milk.”
After fourteen years making cheese Todd and Maugan still wax lyrical about why they do it: “We’ve always believed in just doing one thing well. This is why we’ve only ever made one cheese, and continue to be as obsessive about attention to detail as on the very first day.”
Todd says that his example of a perfect Gorwydd would be a cheese with a clean taste, a good breakdown and a long flavour. He likes to eat it with the rind for full effect. The rind gives a wonderful mushroomy flavour, the breakdown has a lovely creaminess to it and the inner ‘core’ is lemony, fresh and crumbly.
Gorwydd is best eaten simply, with apple, pears or fresh walnuts. It’s great in salads, and Mark Hix has a very nice summery salad recipe with shaved fennel, asparagus and Gorwydd Caerphilly.It is also great to cook with and melts very well.
Gorwydd pairs well with a number of white wines, and Fiona Beckett, the Guardian Wine writer suggests the following:
- White Burgundy; Chenin Blanc; Maçon-Villages; Chablis
- a cider, perry or light hoppy ale
- apple juice, pear juice
- a second flush darjeeling tea.
Gorwydd has won its share of awards at the British and World Cheese Awards, including Best Welsh Cheese, Best Traditional Caerphilly, Best British Cheese and Best Territorial Cheese.
After all these years of making only one cheese, we can honestly say, all the family still love eating Gorwydd Caerphilly – and along with a handful of other favorites, it would always be our cheese of choice whether for an everyday family lunch, a picnic or for an after dinner cheeseboard.
Other people seem to like it too…
“One of the great cheeses of the world.” Nigel Slater
“The first earthy, buttery bite amazed me. This was like no caerphilly I’d ever encountered. I gave in to gluttony and the whole piece had gone long before I got home.” Bee Wilson
“Utterly addictive” Diana Henry