Saturday 21 October 2017

Cheese maturing in cave complex

Jay Thomas, catering director of the cave complex, checks the cheese in Angel Passage at Dan Yr Ogof, South Wales
Jay Thomas, catering director of the cave complex, checks the cheese in Angel Passage at Dan Yr Ogof, South Wales

The earthy environment of a deep and ancient cave complex could be coming to a cheese board near you very soon.

Dark, dank and once the abode our ancient ancestors, a network of South Wales caverns is now providing a home - for cheese.

The National Showcaves of Wales at Dan Yr Ogof have been revealed as an ideal environment for storing and maturing cheese.

Blaenafon Cheddar Co Ltd has already turned local mining tradition to its advantage by maturing cheese at the bottom of a mine shaft. Now cheese chiefs at the firm have started storing cheddar a quarter-of-a-mile underground at the Swansea Valley cave complex.

It follows a six month trial which revealed the mature cheese took on the unique earthy, nutty characteristics of its environment. That opened the way for regular batches to be delivered to the caves for storage and maturation every fortnight. It is also planned to allow tourists to tour the cheese maturing area and taste the delicacy when they re-emerge from the caves.

While the scheme itself may be unusual, in reality it is really a case of back to the future. Our ancestors lived, cooked, ate and stored their food in caves tens of thousands of years ago. A little more recently in the 1600s cheese began to be left in caves to mature when it was found that they are natural fridges.

Temperatures vary very little from summer to winter and an atmosphere of almost 100% humidity provides an ideal environment.

Ashford Price, chairman of the cave complex, said: "Cheese makers discovered that as the cheeses matured they picked up a unique underground flavour and texture. More importantly their cheeses did not dry out during this maturing stage, or lose too much of their original weight."

He added: "The trial cheeses were stored a quarter-of-a-mile underground, and 500ft below the surface. The initial tests were very successful, and the cheeses matured well. As predicted they did capture a unique taste from the cave atmosphere."

Susan Fiander-Woodhouse, managing director of the Blaenafon based cheese maker, said: "This is another example of a food and tourism business forging a great partnership. It has been a very exciting project and we hope that everyone enjoys the finished product as much as we do."

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