Say cheese! How the Yorkshire Dales are reviving cheesemaking traditions
When Britain’s Aardman Animations created an unlikely national treasure with a strong Northern accent and an ardent passion for Wensleydale cheese, it brought new-found fame to one of Yorkshire’s oldest foods. Yet, ironically, as Wallace & Gromit’s international star ascended, the Wensleydale Creamery was fighting for its survival. In April 1992, a year after Wallace & Gromit’s first Academy Award nomination, the last creamery in Wensleydale producing Wensleydale cheese shut down and production was slated to be moved to a newer facility in…Lancashire (Yorkshire's arch rival). Local protests ensued in the pint-sized Dales village of Hawes, where the creamery had existed in one form or another since 1897, and within six months, it was back up and running thanks to a buyout by a team of ex-managers and local businessmen. It became a true community enterprise and today is one of the Yorkshire Dales’ most popular attractions, with 300,000 visitors in 2018. There’s a museum (complete with Wallace & Gromit displays, of course), a cafe serving Wensleydale-based dishes, cheesemaking demonstrations, and a shop with truckle-loads of tasters.The local cheesemaking community is as diverse as the grass and herbs, but one thing the producers have in common is that they’re all tiny operations. Gillian, a radiography lecturer at Bradford University, makes goat’s cheese with eight pedigree Anglo-Nubian goats near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. Italian Mario produces Yorkshire pecorino, parmesan and blue in a Leeds suburb. Tom and Clare of Whin Yeats Farm make a Wensleydale-style cheese called Fellstone that’s aged for three months until it is nutty, complex and mellow – try it paired with rich fruit cake (a delicious Yorkshire tradition) in the Courtyard Dairy’s cafe. And Sam, currently working behind the deli counter in the Courtyard Dairy, is about to start making his own cheese by borrowing a handful of sheep from a farm down the road and equipment lent by Andy.