A Yorkshire Classic - A focus on Wensleydale Cheese
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Named after one of the northern Yorkshire Dales, Wensleydale cheese has a long history with the Dale.
The cheese itself has been made in Wensleydale since 1150, but has a bit of French heritage thrown in too. French Cistercian monks moved to the Dale and established a monastery just outside the village of Hawes, bringing with them their special cheese recipe. The monks eventually moved to Jervaulx, lower down the Dale, but during their time in Hawes, they passed their recipe onto local farmers wives who started to make the cheese in their own farms and farmhouses.
This small scale cheese making continued locally for 700 years but in 1897, Wensleydale cheese started to be produced on a larger scale when a local corn merchant Edward Chapman, saw the possibility of satisfying a larger demand by purchasing milk from local farms to mass produce the cheese at his creamery.
Unfortunately, the depression of the 1930’s led to the creamery facing closure. Many local farms who had supplied milk were owed large sums and were fearing bankruptcy. But one of their number was determined that the Hawes creamery should continue. Kit Calvert a local farmer called a meeting at the Town Hall and gathered enough support to take control and rescue the dairy to allow cheesemaking to continue.
World War 2 leads to halted production
Wensleydale cheese faced another challenge when during the Second World War production of local cheese was halted. The government at the time decreed that only a standard, natural cheddar type cheese should be produced to aid with rationing and distribution. With the war over, production of Wensleydale on a small scale gradually resumed in the early 1950’s.
The 1960’s saw the Wensleydale Creamery bought by the Milk Marketing Board, but “Wensleydale type” cheeses were now being produced at different dairies and farms across England. Dairy Crest a subsidiary of the Milk Marketing Board, closed down the Hawes Creamery in 1992 in what would have ended the production of Wensleydale in the Dale. Production was moved to a multi purpose cheese plant in Lancashire – far away from its original roots.
For a Yorkshire icon – this was the last straw.
The big rescue…
Staff at the Hawes Creamery were determined that Wensleydale production should continue in Wensleydale. So in the November of 1992 they managed to force a management buy out and cheese making resumed.
Since then the Wensleydale Creamery has gone from strength to strength. The creamery now producing a range of Real Wensleydale cheeses and variations from smoked to popular additive versions with ginger, pineapple, garlic onions or cranberries.
Protected Food Name Status
Wensleydale cheese is produced under the generic Wensleydale name for this particular type of cheese in other areas of the UK (mainly Shropshire and Cheshire). Some of these cheeses are made using traditional methods but the bulk are mass produced blocks.
But in 2014, Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese was granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Status. This was great news for Wensleydale Creamery as it means that no other cheese maker outside the area can produce the cheese and call it Yorkshire Wensleydale.
Looking to the future
Wensleydale Creamery continues to produce their authentic Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. With its skilled workforce of 200+ contributing over £10 million to the local community. They still source all their milk from local family farms to maintain the quality and authenticity.
Wensleydale & Fruitcake
One of the traditional ways of serving Wensleydale cheese is with fruitcake (or Christmas Cake), where the crumbly texture and fresh milky sweetness combine well with the rich tastes of the dried fruit.
Taste & Texture
Yorkshire Wenselydale has a unique creamy, crumbly taste which is full of flavor.
The quality of the cheese can be put down to the unique starter cultures, local milk from the grassy Yorkshire Dales, the traditional recipe and the vast cheese making expertise handed down throughout the generations.
Wallace & Gromit’s Favourite Cheese
The famous, Oscar winning animated characters Wallace and Gromit have certainly helped with the success of the real Yorkshire Wensleydale brand. As Wallace was always partial to “a nice bit of Wensleydale”, it helped raise awareness and increased interest in the cheese at a time when sales needed a lift.
In recognition of the characters. Wensleydale Creamery has produced some special truckles and mini pack versions bearing the characters image.