Cave Aged By Tom Pratt
own in Somerset on Ashley Chase Estate belongs a traditional cheese making business run by the Pullin family. Ford Farm has been dedicated to the art of traditional cheese making for decades. Five years, ago, Mike Pullin, Managing Director of the Farm decided to revive the age old tradition of maturing cheese in caves. The caves that they use mainly to store their cheese to mature is down in Wookie’s Hole. Gerry Cottle, owner of the Wookey Hole Caves was persuaded to dedicate an area of the caves to the truckles. The concept was really successful from start. The Caves provide a fantastic environment for cheese maturing due to the constant humidity and all year round temperature which results in the cheese taking on a deliciously distinctive, earthy flavour. From Gerry’s point of view, the cheese has provided an added attraction to visitors to Wookey Hole. During my time spent with the Pullin family I have travelled down country to see what it is exactly they do down here to give themselves such a great name with their cheese.
Mike Pullin chairman of The Royal Bath and West show ground dairy produce section.,who started his business over 13 years ago, eventually sold it to a family called the Barbers for ten million and with that bought shares into Barbers, making them equall partners. The Barber family have been farming and cheesemaking since the early 1800s.Originally the milk was sold locally and the cheese was made for the family and workers at Maryland Farm. Barbers is the oldest still running cheese company in the world dating back to 1864. Although time has moved on, the focus is still on producing West Country Farmhouse Cheddar. Whilst much of the tradition has been preserved Barberâ€™s have embraced the use of modern technology, where possible, to improve the cheesemaking process and quality of our finished cheeses.
People from all over Great Britain come down to Wookey’s Hole to see the Great caves. There are multiple tours everyday that take up to forty five minutes to walk around them. Gerry Cottle, once the ringmaster and owner of Britain’s leading circus and now owner of historic Wookey Hole Caves near Wells in Somerset, is reviving one of the site’s oldest traditions.
Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese has been made in the West Country since the 16th Century. Four hundred years ago there was no refrigeration and the caves were the ideal place to mature cheeses. The temperature is a constant 11째C all year round, and the high humidity is also ideal to stop the cheese drying out during its maturation storage. Most of the cheese in the cave is approximately a year old.
Mike has to come down and check the cheeses moulding every few months to see how they are proggressing. The cheese is wrapped in a cloth and coated in lard to protect it. This is how it was done in those early days when they didnâ€™t have vacuum packing machines to seal the cheese in plastic bags. I had the delightful opportunity to try some and it tasted like nothing ive ever had before. Truly amazing. The cheese takes some of its flavour from the production process and some from the surroundings itâ€™s stored in. If you put an onion in the fridge and put some cheese next to it, after one day the cheese will pick up the flavour of the onion. The same happens when you store cheese in the cave, the cheese picks up a distinct flavour from the cave. Traditional West Country Farmhouse Cheddar is only made in small amounts these days, probably only 1500 tonnes per year. This sounds a lot, but in comparison to the Cheddar business in the UK this is a very small percentage. There are only five to six farms left in the UK making it and Ford Farm is the only one at present storing it in the Caves.
At present the caves can hold up to ten tons at a time. placed in a cavern running close to the public walkway, behind a large barred cellar door, allowing the public to see the cheese as it ages.
All the cheddar cheese sold in Costco worldwide, Sainsburyâ€™s and Tesco is produced and sold from here. Tescos and Saisburys also own the rights to all the brands for the butter and the cheese.
Mike’s wife , a Cheeseaholic and also cordon bleu trained chef, Tanys Pullin, 46, from Wells, marked the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation with a crown crafted from West Country farmhouse cheddar which measures 1m in diameter, stands over 1.2m tall and weighed in at 500.4kg. This the new World Record for the Largest cheese sculpture. She worked in a cold storage room to protect the structure of the crown, which smashed the previous world record by over 200kg, when it weighed in at 500.4kg. She said she was “very relieved” to have broken the record. She is a mother-offour who also makes wedding cakes out of cheese
There were Strict rules which
meant that the sculpture had to be made from a single piece of cheese and is not allowed to be supported by an internal structure.
‘I am the cheese wedding cake goddess. I’m like the Nigella Lawson of the cheese world.’
PDO stands for Protected Designation of Origin, and only applies to cheese made by farms that use their own milk, make the cheese in the traditional way and are based in Somerset, Dorset, Devon, or Cornwall. You can see that it is PDO Cheddar by the yellow and blue sign displayed on the Farmhouse Cheddar packs.