Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes, England

Wensleydale is most famous for the cheese produced there. Cheesemaking in the Dales goes back at least as far as the Christian monasteries and has continued to the present day. We visited the Wensleydale Creamery, the home of real North Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese. In addition to their cheese production buildings, they have a museum, a visitor centre, a shop, and a restaurant. We visited them all!

The working part of the creamery

Our first stop was the museum where we saw a bit about the history of Wensleydale cheese. The first cheesemakers in the area were French Cistercian monks who came in 1150.

Monastic tools of the trade

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s, the monks gave the recipe to the wives of the farmers who had provided the milk to make cheese. The tradition was preserved in homes for about 450 years.

A sample farm kitchen with a sample J

In 1897 Edward Chapman built the first creamery to make Wensleydale cheese on an industrial scale. He bought milk from the local farmers and made a success of exporting the cheese.

Cheese presses (to get extra liquid out of the cheese)

Various cheese making implements

In the 1930s, the Great Depression almost closed the creamery but Kit Calvert drummed up enough support to save it. The company changed hands a few times until May 1992 when the creamery was closed by Dairy Crest, then the current owners. Some of the laid-off managers got together and bought the creamery and reopened it in time for cheese to be sold at Christmas. The place is still making hand-crafted cheese from local milk according to the classic local recipes.

Milking implements through the ages

A display on butter making, which they also do at the creamery

The museum includes an activity area for children which naturally drew J and L. A telly in the corner shows Wallace & Gromit animations (which caused a resurgence in people's interest in Wensleydale). They were more distracting for L than for J.

Children's activity area

After the museum, we went across the way to the Cheese-making Viewing Gallery, a grand name which I did not make up!

People go left; cars go right

The gallery has nice views of the men and women (about 200 people are currently employed by the creamery) making cheese. The windows were a little foggy so it was hard to get good pictures. The children were fascinated by the large tubs in use.

Gathering cheese ready for molding on left; draining large slabs of cheese on right

After the tub was emptied of cheese, one man started washing it out with a power washer. At one point he playfully shot our window which got a good laugh from us.

Stirring the proto-cheese

This area had a few items on display, including an old-fashioned delivery vehicle.

The cheese express!

The next building was the visitor centre with the cheese shop and a restaurant. The restaurant was rather full so we were unable to have a snack. We went into the cheese shop (a room with a controlled environment--cool enough to store cheese in the open!) where we sampled a good variety of their offerings. They make not only Wensleydale cheese, but cheddar and Gloucester and other combinations of flavors. My favorites were the Wensleydale with cranberries and the other with pineapple and the smoky cheddar. It was so delightful I forgot to take pictures!

We browsed a bit in the rest of the shop but did not buy anything (though L was pretty insistent that she needed a small stuffed sheep). It was a great visit though the whole place wasn't as large as I was expecting.

The surrounding hillsides are quite beautiful!

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