Lunch in the upstairs cafe at the Courtyard Dairy in Austwick shows why it’s just been awarded the title of Cheesemonger of the Year, writes Elaine Lemm.
In April, the 2018 National Farm Shop and Deli Awards saw a host of fabulous Yorkshire finalists, with four outright winners for the national titles. Fink, in Boroughbridge, won Local Shop of the Year; Farmison, in Ripon, Online Retailer for its meat; Rafters, in Driffield, Greengrocer; and the Courtyard Dairy, Austwick, Cheesemonger of the Year. Four out of 13 awards – go Yorkshire!
For the Courtyard, this is its second national win, and since its last accolade in 2016 it has upped sticks and moved to new premises and taken its lovely cheeses, profound knowledge and passion to a new level. It boasts the UK’s best cheese shop, an exciting wine shop, a cheese museum, a cheese production room (where you can learn how to make your own on a one-day course) and a cafe above the shop. Remarkably, on a somewhat, cold and miserable Monday lunchtime, the place is bustling both up and downstairs.
Getting past the cheese counter to go up to the cafe takes some manoeuvring. If like me any cheese is enticing, here you will be mesmerised both by what is on offer and the hugely passionate cheesemongers who will suck you into the stories and descriptions of each cheese in such detail that it surprises me they don’t know the name of the cow, goat or sheep. They represent and maintain all that Andy and Kathy Swinscoe, owners of the Courtyard, want which is “to sell only the best cheese available from the British Isles and the continent of Europe; and champion and support the few remaining independent farmhouse cheesemakers”.
When we do make it up the stairs, the cafe, though small is airy and light with a small bar. There is a long table groaning under the weight of cheeses of the day plus cakes, all but one of them made right here in the kitchen and there’s also a cheese maturing room worth a peep.
The menu is small and, surprise, surprise, cheese-led but not exclusively so. Meat comes as a charcuterie platter (£7.50) with Macelleria Falorni’s prosciutto, fennel salami and salami piccante, and a spicy spreadable Yorkshire Chorizo salami. A Falconer’s lunch platter (£7.95) features a wedge of Drake & Macefield’s pork pie, Dale End Cheddar and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese plus apple, celery and piccalilli.
Memories of cosy mountain huts and a ravenous appetite from several hours skiing has us heading to the melted cheese section of the menu. We have thoughts of ordering the raclette – this one is English melted raw-milk Ogleshield cheese scraped from the whole block and served with sweet cucumber pickle, pearl onions and new potatoes (£7.95). After much deliberation, we opt instead for a Yorkshire Fondue (£7.50) – who ever knew there was such a thing? This one is a small square hot pot of bubbling Yorkshire-style alpine cheese, a description that had me giggling with visions of Julie Andrews at the top of Ingleborough singing; the husband tuts in dismay and puts his order in. He’s is thrilled with the fondue, happily dunking chunks of bread into the cheese and spearing pearl onions and pickles with abandon.
For me, it is the Courtyard’s Ham and Cheese, with visions of a slim, tasty toasted sandwich. There is nothing slim about this with two chunky slices of bread, oozing sweet, melted cheese and a generous helping of Falorni’s prosciutto and a generous covering of béchamel sauce. A 10-mile walk and I could have easily seen this off, but as it is I manage about three-quarters and enjoy every bite. Someone still has room left for a rather lovely slice of lemon meringue cake, but it is not me.
The Courtyard was a memorable lunch, not least because it was adventurous and showcases so well why cheese deserves more than a couple of slices of Mother’s Pride and a dollop of Branston. The lunch also demonstrates perfectly what Andy and Kathy are doing in bringing together some of the most excellent cheeses out there, maturing them on site and championing small cheese-making farmers. Periodically there are dinners here too with top chefs, so keep an eye on the website.
We are so lucky to have this here in Yorkshire.
The Courtyard Dairy, Crows Nest Barn, Austwick, Nr. Settle, LA2 8AS Tel: 01729 823 291 Open Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 5.30pm, Sunday, 10.30am to 4.30pm.