It is known throughout the world for its famous dairy produce, earning it the title of “the cheese capital of Yorkshire”.
Now, national parks chiefs are hoping to capitalise on Wensleydale’s popularity as part of a major tourism drive centred on promoting the region’s food and drink.
This weekend visitors flocked to the Dales for the inaugural Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival, a celebration of the county’s rich cheese-making heritage, which kicked off on Saturday at the famous Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.
Helen Dalton, destination co-ordinator for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), who has helped to organise the event, said: “We have been awarded European funding for two years and we are looking at bringing tourists into the area in relation to food.
“There will be a focus on food and what food we have to offer in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is part of the Destination Partnership between the moors and the Dales, which is a project running until March 2019 to boost tourism across four protected landscapes in Yorkshire.
“One of the things we are really good at doing in the Dales is cheese. We thought initially let’s have a cheese festival and focus on cheese, with Wensleydale and others as well, including Shepherd’s Purse, Swaledale and Ribblesdale.
“There are some really fantastic cheese producers in the Yorkshire Dales and we also have amazing food and drink that compliments the cheese, including chutneys and ale.”
The festival also aims to educate visitors about cheese, while showcasing the iconic Yorkshire landscapes of the Dales and Nidderdale.
Among a host of sampling, making and cookery demonstrations, tastings have been combined with walking, cycling, climbing or canoeing during a programme of events, which continues until Saturday.
Mrs Dalton said: “It’s a festival where we want to celebrate everything the national park has to offer.
“It’s so important to showcase local produce. Yorkshire food is growing from strength-to-strength and you have got to support local producers and farms. The more we can promote local producers, the better.
“When people come on holiday and visit they look for food provenance. They want that locality. It creates a memory and people want to go back and buy products again and again. Especially when they taste so wonderful.
“Wensleydale has got the reputation, but we want to show of all the other cheeses and produce out there. The creamery is very supportive of that.”
It is hoped the event will eventually achieve the same success as the Malton Food Lovers Festival, which was launched in 2009 and now draws in excess of 30,000 visitors. The creation of the food and drink festival created an awareness of the North Yorkshire market town and gave a boost to both existing and new businesses.
Mrs Dalton said: “The festival is part of a tourism drive. The YDNP realises that food is so important and something we need to promote in our area. Welcome to Yorkshire is supporting it, so is Richmondshire District Council. It is something we are all focusing on.
“We wanted to do something a bit different as there are a lot of food festivals happening.
“The Malton festival is fantastic and the food they do now is amazing. It has become a food destination. We wanted to focus on what we are good at as well, so cheese but also amazing meats, hopefully we can develop and promote that as well.
“This is the first year and we want to develop it. Next year we want to build on it and make it better every year.”