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Wrotham's dairy farmer who broke the mould with award-winning cheeses

PUBLISHED: 14:28 30 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:27 01 October 2012

Robin Betts

Robin Betts

Archant

Benjamin Caine finds out about an award-winning cheese barn with a unique way of storing produce

Here’s a reason to tuck into some cheddar…it’s British Cheese Week and some of the finest comes from Wrotham.

The Betts family has a long history of dairy farming dating back to 1950, but 12 years ago they decided to tap into a new market and produced their first cheese.

“With the dreadful price of milk, we looked for additional farming methods,” said Robin Betts, who now runs Winterdale Cheese based in Wrotham.

Milk production has stayed part of the farm, however.

The cheese plan came about at the turn of the millennium, just as Robin and his wife Carla welcomed their first child into the world.

It was an “immense struggle”, Robin says, to balance a new family along with a new dairy product on his hands.

Helping them out was a self-described “cheese technologist” called Val Bines who has almost 50 years of experience in the industry.

Having learned the theory, Robin and Carla spent hours at their kitchen table discussing which cheeses to produce, finally coming up with an unpasteurised Winterdale Shaw and a Winterdale Oak Smoked.

Keeping things local, Winterdale Shaw is the name that old maps identify as the area of the valley where the firm is based.

Today, life has a rhythm to it – milking the cows begins at 6am and takes about three hours.

The milk goes straight into a traditional cheese vat within 20 minutes and by 4pm the cheese is poured into moulds and then into wood cheese presses where it remains under pressure for three days.

However, good cheese takes time – each block is wrapped in cotton muslin and left to mature for 10 months.

The cheese is lowered into a cave dug deep into the chalky North Downs where it further develops even more interesting characteristics in flavour.

It’s a winning recipe as can be seen by the number of awards racked up the company over the last few years.

Judges at the World Cheese Awards have regularly handed accolades to Winterdale and last week it won a bronze and a silver for two cheeses entered.

Robin says he is now looking to expand the business further with the production of a soft cheese next month becoming a possibility.

Also key to Robin’s philosophy is a promise to reduce his “cheese miles”.

He markets his goods within a 30-mile range of Wrotham (which includes London) and using his new electric car means minimising carbon emissions.

It’s British, carbon-neutral and has the experts’ approval – no less than Prince Charles has had a nibble of what Winterdale has to offer, describing it to be simply “marvellous”.

Winterdale Cheese Barn is open to public viewings on Saturdays from 11am to 1pm.

To find out more about Winterdale, visit www.winterdale.co.uk.

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