Caerphilly cheese is deeply rooted in Welsh history and food culture. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, it used to be a staple food for farmworkers and miners, but its production sharply declined to the point of extinction. Luckily for us, the farmhouse Caerphilly recipe was adopted by cheesemakers in Somerset who recognised the importance of having a quicker maturing cheese in their repertoire, while they waited for their large cheddar truckles to mature. Chris Duckett’s aged Caerphilly has been keeping the high standard of real Caerphilly alive for decades.
My favourite Caerphilly is the one made by Todd and Maugan Trethowan. It's called Gorwydd Caerphilly. Todd trained with Chris Duckett in Somerset before moving to Wales and setting up production on his parents’ farm using milk sourced from nearby farms. In 2014, a partnership opportunity with Puxton Farm came up and they moved back to Somerset, where they created a purpose-built dairy and maturing facility attached to the Puxton Farm Park, which boasted a herd of organically reared Holstein and Jersey cows.
When we visited, the head cheesemaker explained the benefits of being so close to the milk source as their milk has to travel only a few metres from the milking parlour to the cheesemaking vat. As a result, they don’t have to pasteurise it and can keep it in a naturally beautiful state ready for cheesemaking.
The entire process, except for the milk stirring, is performed by hand. When I close my eyes, I can still see the enchanting ‘dance’ the four cheesemakers performed with their knives as they were texturing the curd. It was precise, well timed and careful. It gave me a new level of appreciation for the phrase ‘handmade’ cheese.
Another thing I learned during my visit was an invisible but fascinating part of Gorwydd Caerphilly’s history. The Trethowan brothers played a pivotal role in saving a ‘heritage’ starter culture that was days away from extinction. With the advance of commercial cheesemaking, starter cultures have become mass-produced too, so cheeses started losing their ‘taste of place’. Only a small handful of producers were still using starter cultures native to Britain.
The Trethowan brothers saved and replicated the unique culture, which is used to this day in production of their Caerphilly, ensuring its authentic taste.
Gorwydd Caerphilly is allowed to slowly mature for three to four months, which is longer than the mass-produced versions, developing a complex flavour and texture characteristic of traditional Caerphillies. I like to describe it as a cheese in three acts. Under its velvety natural rind, you’ll find a cream line that’s distinctly smooth, sweetly savoury and mushroomy, contrasted by its core, which is crumbly and zingy.
How to enjoy Gorwydd Caerphilly
I think this honest, unpretentious cheese is best enjoyed with some fresh crusty bread and a bowl of soup, but if you prefer to serve it on a cheeseboard, I recommend pairing it with crisp white wines or wheat beer.
The Cheese Lady x