Philippa James visits Dewlay Cheese in Garstang
PUBLISHED: 09:28 08 May 2014 | UPDATED: 18:16 09 March 2016
Philippa James joins the campaign to make Lancashire Cheese sexy and is seduced by a smooth newcomer
I was invited to Dewlay Cheese at Garstang for a tasting afternoon with Nigel White, who is secretary of the British Cheese Board. He is on a mission to get people to pick up ‘Cheddar plus one.’ In other words, he wants cheese lovers to broaden their horizons, perhaps be a little more promiscuous in their purchases.
I particularly enjoyed Arla Foods’ Wensleydale, with its honeyed notes, Belton Cheese’s delicious Red Fox, and I savoured a mouthful of Mrs Kirkham’s. Just to be polite, I tried a ‘proper’ mature Cheddar, packed with flavour, by The Lake District Dairy Company. Surprisingly, my absolute favourite was the Joseph Heler Red Leicester with Geeta’s Premium Mango Chutney. I kept going back for more.
Cheddar is the big cheese when it comes to sales. It outsells any other with a total market share of around 60 per cent. Nigel and his colleagues want shoppers to pick up one more territorial or artisan cheese. He appreciates that some of the supermarkets are now supporting cheese makers by stocking local varieties and over recent years producers have dabbled into new takes on old favourites, including here in Lancashire where verdant pastures mean lush grazing and full cream milk.
But Ian Coggin, sales director at Dewlay stopped me in my tracks when he revealed UK sales of all Lancashire Cheese is a mind-blowingly low one per cent. The sale of Lancashire Cheese is in decline, it is perceived as an older person’s purchase and the aim of producers, like Dewlay, is to try and ‘sex up’ the image of our county’s Creamy, Crumbly, and Tasty.
Ian said: ‘Our aim is to encourage more younger consumers to try Lancashire Cheese, we want a traditional product, but in a modern format. We all have to produce specialist, regional cheeses, with a difference. We need to be lean, efficient, and delicious, with a keen price point.’
Even Mozzarella, produced from German cows’ milk, is used more than Lancashire cheese, despite Lancashire cheese being perfect for melting. Ian did state that some producers of gourmet pizzas locally, notably Honest Crust based in Ramsbottom, use their Tasty Lancashire, and I spotted they also use another local cheese maker, Greenfields, of Goosnargh. Manchester-based Croma Gourmet Pizzerias also take Dewlay’s cheese for their restaurants.
One particularly innovative new product is the microwaveable Nacho Chilli Cheese which has a good hit of heat. It had a maiden victory winning a Gold Award, as well as the prestigious ’Bradbury’s Award for New Retail Innovation’ at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards, last year.
Dewlay’s commercial director Conor Daunt spoke of their third generation cheese makers, co-owners Nick and Richard Kenyon, and said: ‘The future is very bright, with export sales really growing at a pace, especially based on the newer flavours and formats of the cheeses now being produced.’
One lady, originally from St. Helens, wrote to Conor, saying how thrilled she was to be able to buy Dewlay’s Crumbly Lancashire in her local supermarket in South Africa! Conor also mentioned that Booths are sending their cheese specialists in to produce their own Lancashire Cheese.
I took my tagliatelle dish down to the Dewlay shop for cheese experts Alison Hull and Danielle Butler to try. They loved the use of the Garstang Blue and noted the hint of lemon zest which Ian had grated for me. The lasses are cheery and very user-friendly, in particular they are very patient with the many young visitors who come to see cheese being made. People travel from all over the world to buy both cheeses, and the increasingly popular cheese wedding ‘cakes’. One man regularly travels back to the Czech Republic with three, 19 kilo cheeses to sample out with fine wines at his business.
Just as photographer Kirsty Thompson and I were about to leave, Ian stopped us. ‘I’ve got something very exciting, and brand new to show you, wait there!’ He re-appeared bearing a white wheel of cheese which he put down and cut open - he was beaming from ear to ear!
It had the look of a Brie, like a quivering bosom, peeping over a Georgian bodice. He remarked: ‘She’s not shy, in front of the camera, is this one’ and, on cue, as Kirsty snapped away, the glorious, glistening, golden, mould-ripened, soft cheese oozed, seductively, out from the rind, tempting me to whip my finger through it, for a sneaky taste.
Ian took me aback. ‘Do you know that you are partly responsible for the existence of this cheese, Philippa? Some years ago you delivered training for the cheese counter staff and managers from Booths. One of the dishes you showed us was a baked Camembert which you served with snippings of rosemary and crusty bread.
‘I decided we needed a Lancashire version and this is it. It’s taken a while to develop, but it’s absolutely gorgeous, I can’t leave it alone! The milk is from a Jersey herd on Mr and Mrs Pye’s farm up near Lancaster. It is extraordinarily rich and creamy, and it produces the most amazing ‘Garstang White’ cheese.’
And he is certainly right, it’s a winner, and while very new, and not widely available, yet, I’m sure it soon will be. Now then, Mr Coggin, about my commission!