They fought a long and drawn-out battle to get their flagship product protected in law – but the makers of Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese are now spreading out across someone else’s territory.
The Dales creamery that is the only producer of “official” Wensleydale – with the county title attached – is today launching its own Yorkshire Cheddar, a flavour with a solid geographical provenance of its own.
The new product will be the subject of a lunchtime launch in Leeds today, with the Harrogate chef Steph Moon creating a cheddar-inspired tasting menu.
Cheddar accounts for about half the cheese sold in the UK, but relatively little of it is made near the gorge in the Mendips from which it takes its name. Cheddar which is not branded “West Country Farmhouse” is allowed to be produced anywhere.
“We debated it long and hard, and we concluded that Yorkshire folk are quite straightforward – so what it says on the packaging is what it is,” said David Hartley, inset, managing director of the creamery at Hawes, which is 264 miles from the village of Cheddar by the quickest route.
“Cheddar is worldwide now – it’s understood as a name,” Mr Hartley said. “We could have developed a name that was unique and different but then we’d have had to explain it. This is a no-nonsense approach – Yorkshire’s own cheddar.”
A dozen British cheeses enjoy “protected name” status which restricts their production to the place that bears their name – putting them in a similar category to pork pies from Melton Mowbray and sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France.
Following years of debate which reached ministerial level, it was ruled in 2013 that while Wensleydale cheese could be made in other parts of England, “Yorkshire Wensleydale” could be sourced only from an area bounded by Sedbergh to the west and Bedale to the east. The creamery at Hawes is the only maker there.
Mr Hartley said: “Half of the cheese market is about cheddar. We have cheesemaking skills going back over many generations and we thought it was appropriate that we should grow our business and have a part of that market.”
He described the new product, which is matured for 15 months, as “a high-quality premium cheddar that’s not an everyday Cathedral City but a cheese with character”.
He added: “It delivers a rounded multitude of flavours, with creamy subtle sweet nutty notes and a savoury finish, brought together in a distinct firm and rugged textured extra-mature cheddar cheese.”
Its production will help to support the 45 local dairy farms who supply the creamery.
Mr Hartley, whose other products include a Yorkshire Brie, said: “It’s a proper range extension for us and a reaction to a growing market.”
The product will launch first in the North before expanding to the west country and elsewhere.