The Festive Season is upon us, and for us at Sated, that means our diets will consist of little other than cheese and wine for the next quarter (granted, not a far departure from our usual regimes throughout the rest of the year, but there is a certain special relationship between the Winter months and cheese). With this in mind, we decided to catch up with our favourite cheesemongers in Britain, Andy and Kathy Swinscoe of the multi-award-winning The Courtyard Dairy. Celebrated around the UK by Michelin-star chefs and amateur cheese lovers alike, the husband and wife team are true champions of the country’s most unusual and exceptional farmhouse cheeses. We have a chat with Andy to see how things are and what their plans are for Christmas.
When did you start The Courtyard Dairy?
My wife Kathy and I started it in 2012 on a shoestring budget but with the idea that we were going to open a small shop that championed proper, traditional cheese. In 2017 the shop expanded into new premise, including a museum telling the history and story of farmhouse cheese, a café serving cheese-based dishes, and a cheese production room (in which we run cheese-making courses).
Why did you decide to start it?
I fell into the world of cheese from a fine-dining background. I had worked with farmhouse cheese in the South of England for many years and had done a 6-month apprenticeship in France learning the art of cheese maturation before that.
Kathy and I decided we wanted to move back to the North and start something for ourselves. We wanted to do a small selection of farm-made cheeses but ones that were truly special and were made by individuals who we visited and had close contact with.
What do you offer?
The Courtyard Dairy was created with the ethos of selling only the best cheese available from the British Isles. By doing so, we champion and support the few remaining independent British farmhouse cheese-makers. These small individual farmers still make the cheese by hand with unpasteurised milk from their own herds, in order to get the best depth of flavour. Each cheese is then aged to perfection in our maturing cheese room near Settle. This is the type of cheese that we specialise in.
Who do you supply?
Aside from the shop and mail order, we also work with some fantastic restaurants in the North of England. Too many to name here but some of my favourites include The Forest Side, Northcote, The Box Tree, The White Swan at Fence, The Traddock, and Skosh.
What makes you different?
Our business is built on four pillars and we won’t compromise on them:
- We champion small, independent, cheese-making farmers, and raw-milk where possible
- We’re expert cheesemongers who know everything about our cheeses, their story and where they come from
- Our cheeses have been aged to perfection; they are matured on-site in the shop so that all the cheeses are sold in perfect condition every time
- We source cheeses directly at the farm to highlight the very best batches
What are you doing for Christmas?
Selling great cheese! Seriously though, I believe if a product is good enough we should do it all year. So, at Christmas we do tend to do a lot more business as people order lots of special cheeses from us (to collect or deliver) but we keep our cheese range the same, sticking to the same outstanding cheeses we already know.
We do some specially tailored hampers and Christmas selection boxes, which we send out, but they are always made up of cheeses we already know and trust.
Where do you deliver to?
We deliver farmhouse cheese throughout the UK.
What is your favourite cheese at the moment (difficult, we know)?
That’s like asking me my favourite child! I do have one, but it changes (sometimes even in the same day). But one that truly captures my imagination is Etivaz – it’s story is so special. Etivaz remains true to the ancient traditions of Alpine cheese making, and showcases how Gruyère would have been made hundreds of years ago. Made only in the months of May to October in small Alpine chalets, the milk is sourced from cows that graze the high-mountain pasture.
The best new British cheese to watch is Fellstone. Based on a traditional old ‘dales’ recipe of the north of England, Fellstone is aged for three months by which time it has the fresh lemony-lactic flavours of a good Wensleydale, with a supple, firmer texture.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Proper traditional farmhouse cheese doesn’t have marketing budgets, salesman on the round, nice labels and big promotional packs but it does really capture the nature of one farm (terroir as the French would say). It helps keep small scale sustainable farming alive and can have a greater depth of flavour so do seek them out. Make sure you look out for cheeses which are small-scale produced, and are unpasteurised.
To learn more about The Courtyard Dairy and buy their cheese, click here.