Artisan cheesemaker prepares for Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival

Simon Lacey stirs the sheep's milk.

An artisan cheesemaker has channelled the spirit of medieval monks for the upcoming Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival 2022.

Simon Lacey, from Reeth, has created a new traditional Wensleydale Cheese using raw sheep’s milk supplied by High Carlingill Farm in the Westmorland Dales.

He is one of a growing number of small scale cheese and ice cream producers in the Dales who will be serving up a little something special during the Dales Cheese Festival on the weekend of 7-10 October.

A range of businesses including tearooms, pubs and restaurants across the national park and surrounding area are putting on events, special menus, and the chance to find out more about cheese making.

These can all be seen on the Cheese Festival map.

Mr Lacey, who began making his St Benedict’s and Fallen Monk sheep’s milk Wensleydales five months ago, said: “I am massively passionate about the product and its provenance.

“It’s about trying to get a product that is a natural as it can be, that’s why the milk isn’t homogenised or heat treated.

“Wensleydale was originally a French recipe made at Fors and Jervaulx abbeys.

“It was sheep’s milk and it was raw milk.  It’s a softer, buttery, more open textured cheese than people have become used to.  And it’s not too pungent or strong; it’s a cheese that you could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Mr Lacey established Lacey’s Cheese around 15 years ago and operates from one of the light industry units at Reeth Dales Centre.

As well as making cheese and ice cream, he runs one-day cheese making courses teaching nearly 500 people a year.

He said the festival was a way of showcasing the talent in the Dales.

“Physically it’s incredibly demanding to make ewe’s milk cheese and then look after it for four months.

“You feel alone up here sometimes, but cheese makers and milk producers chat and we feel like a little community.

“You feel part of something, a collective.”

The sheep’s milk is sourced from within the national park at High Carlingill Farm and delivered by David Knipe, a farmer from Tebay.

Mr Knipe said: “You go back to pre-foot and mouth [in 2001] and in Cumbria there was one or two cheese producers, that’s all there was.  Now we’ve got more than a dozen artisan makers.

“It’s a growth industry. There’s no two cheeses the same, that’s the beauty of it.

“It’s texture that gives taste.  You want something in your mouth that gives you a buzz.”

Member champion for promoting understanding at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Kevin Frea, said: “We are seeing a resurgence of artisan cheese making and other dairy products in the Dales, supported by a network of local shops and farmer’s markets.

“It’s a movement we are excited to support through the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival.

“A cheese-induced ‘buzz’ – as Farmer David put it – would be a great description of what festival goers can expect.”