An artisan cheese created by a Welsh centre of excellence with a specialist smokery has tasted major success in its first year on sale.
More than one and half tonnes of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre’s award-winning Abermwg cheese have been given its distinctive smokey flavour thanks to a Chirk company that supplies food for the Orient Express.
Chirk Trout Farm and Food Smokery uses oak and beech wood chips to cold-smoke wheels of the cheese, which are handmade and matured at Bodnant in the Conwy Valley.
Abermwg, with its rich tawny rind, is winning a host of discerning customers at outlets across the UK including independent delicatessens, farm shops and restaurants, and was one of four Bodnant cheeses to win gold at the Royal Welsh Show.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre managing director Chris Morton said: “This is another great success story for our Welsh produce. Personally, I’m a big fan of our cheeses, especially Abermwg, and I know from talking to customers in our farm shop just how popular continues to be.
“It proves that shoppers and chefs, whether they are cooking for their family or working in professional kitchens, want produce they know has been made with care and attention to detail, using local ingredients.”
Abermwg was developed by the centre’s cheese-maker Aled Rowlands together with cheese sales and marketing manager Debbie Leviseur, using the centre’s top-selling Aberwen cheese.
“We could see that there was room in the market for an artisan smoked cheese – the Aberwen is perfect because it is firm and creamy and so it takes up the smoking flavours easily,” said Debbie.
“The name was a simple choice – our cheeses are all called Aber, which means river mouth in Welsh as we overlook the River Conwy estuary, and Mwg is smoke in Welsh.
“It has clearly caught on very well and I’m delighted that it’s been proving so popular in just 12 months of full production.
“Here at Bodnant our aim is to promote Welsh food and so I wanted a Welsh smokery to produce the cheese, rather than adding flavourings. The smokery is also now selling Abermwg, which is a real bonus.”
Chirk smokery owner Richard Simpson said: “Abermwg cheese has been a big success for us – both in terms of the part we play in producing it and also on the shelves of our own farm shop.
“We like to offer our customers as diverse a range of food as possible so it was a must to sell the Abermwg – it’s become a very popular line for us.
“It’s being snapped up by local people and our visitors from outside the area, many of whom are food connoisseurs.
“We’ve also been selling it to restaurants who have been teaming it up with our smoked bacon to add extra flavour to things like smoked burgers.
“We’re now smoking about 50 to 60 kilos of Abermwg every other week, which is something I enjoy doing and am very passionate about.
“Of course, if the product you are smoking is good to start off with it that helps a lot and the Aberwen cheese certainly is.”
Richard added: “The Abermwg is a lovely cheese, and takes to the smoking process really well. It goes into our smokebox over a fire fed by a blend of mainly oak, ash and beech chips, from up the valley in Glyn Ceiriog, for the best flavour.
“Because the wood chips come from just a few miles away the whole operation has a very small carbon footprint which is good for the environment.
“The warm, smoky air gently dries and preserves the food. This takes two to three days and is where the skill and experience comes in as conditions outside – wind, temperature or sunshine – have to be taken into account.
“We only use traditional methods to ensure the best results and the real taste of properly smoked foods, rather than the artificial smoked flavours used in processed foods.”
Abermwg smoked cheese is made and matured in Bodnant’s on-site dairy using full-fat milk provided by a neighbouring farmer’s herd of hand-tended Friesian cows.
The cheeses include the white Aberwen – which also has an extra-matured variety – and Abergoch red cheese.
Wheels of Aberwen cheese, each weighing three kilos, are put into the hot smoker by Richard, and left there in temperatures around 25ºC for up to three days to take up the flavours.
When they come out the cheeses have developed a rich tawny orange rind and a smoky flavour that’s perfect for cheeseboards or using in cooking.
The cheeses are then returned to Bodnant, where they are packaged and sent to outlets around the UK.
The fish farm in the Glyn Ceiriog valley dates back to the 1890s and once supplied the historic nearby Chirk Castle
“We supply many restaurants, butchers and food companies – for example, our smoked fish is served up on the Orient Express – and we started the smokery side a few years back.”
The cheeses are made at Bodnant with milk that is delivered fresh from the farm by tanker. It is pasteurised on site in the dairy, before being heated to 32ºC, when cultures and vegetable rennet are added, then cooled to create the cheese curds.
The whey is strained off – this goes back to the farm to be used a fertiliser on the fields – and the curds salted and pressed into shape in a mould. Each 10kg cheese is hand-wrapped in traditional muslin bindings, to allow the cheese to breathe, and matured for at least four months in the storage rooms at Bodnant.
There the natural moulds from the air help develop each variety’s unique flavour. Aled checks, turns and tastes the cheeses as they mature in the dark, at 11ºC, until he judges they are ready to leave.
Bodnant’s dairy also makes butter, is still patted and shaped by hand, and sold wrapped in greaseproof paper, which won Gold Star in the Great Taste awards and will be available at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham’s NEC.
The dairy also creates ice-creams that are sold in the centre’s tearooms, Hayloft restaurant and the farm shop.
More details at www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk or call 01492 651100