Megi Williams of South Caernarfon Creameries tells us about an unusual cheesy collaboration with Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
We wanted to bring out something new, so we looked back to some of the traditional methods used to do things and decided to try maturing our cheese in Caverns. We checked around for a suitable location and decided on Llechwedd Slate Caverns. There are hundreds of caverns, so it was the perfect place.
Once we’d decided on a place, we had to work on the cheese. The cheese is matured for 11 months at the creamery before we take it underground, but we had to figure out exactly how long it needed in the cavern for there to be a difference in the flavour. At first we tried a month which had no effect. Then we tried two months with the same result. Finally, we left it there for three months and found a significant difference to the taste.
It’s not just a gimmick. A group from Nottingham University have confirmed that the constant temperature and the humidity in the caverns changes the flavour of the cheese. You can definitely taste the difference if you try it alongside our regular vintage, which is matured for 14 months above ground. The vintage cheddar tastes strong straight away, but the cavern cheddar tastes creamy to start then you get all the flavour. It’s an acquired taste, but anyone who likes strong cheese is going to love it.
It’s a good job the cheese tastes so great, because making it is a challenging process. We carry the cheeses down in to the cave on the same train that visitors to Llechwedd use, early in the morning before the first tour starts. They are then moved by cart to the cavern where they mature. Two guys drag the carts by hand, taking new cheese down and bringing matured cheese to the surface every day. It’s a really old-fashioned approach, but it’s the only way to do it.
There are other issues connected by being in a cave rather than simply making the cheese the easy way. Last year, the caverns flooded due to heavy rain, the water came up to just below our cheese caves. We couldn’t get the cheese out the normal way so we had to open a fire exit and carry it, one by one, up 120 stairs.
It’s all worth it though. Everyone at Llechwedd tells us how interested people are when they hear that there is cheese being matured in the cavern. They’ve had visitors from all over the world who have sampled it and it always go down a storm.