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FARM LIFE: Caws Teifi Cheese

Caws Teifi Cheese is a family run artisan cheesemaking business located at Glynhynod, Bwlchygroes near Llandysul. Glynhynod or "Remarkable valley" is a 45-acre farm at the head of the Chwerchyr valley, which joins the river Teifi at Henllan.

In 1981 John and Patrice Savage-Onstwedder and Paula Van Werkhoven moved from the Netherlands to Glynhynod, with the vision of living in a more self-sufficient way.

John Seymour, a farmer, and author of “The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency” was living in north Pembrokeshire at that time, and many people have moved to west Wales after being inspired by Seymour’s book. John Savage was one of these people, and acknowledged the influence of what many consider to be the “bible of self-sufficiency”.

Patrice was already an experienced cheesemaker from her time working in north Brabant in Southern Holland. A wide range of traditional cheeses are made at Glynhynod: Farmhouse Gouda, Caerphilly, and also Halloumi. Nettles, seaweed, cumin, and other herbs are added to the Gouda, which is still made based on a 500-year-old recipe.

All Caws Teifi’s cheese is made using unpasteurised milk. While pasteurising milk does kill harmful bacteria that could potentially make you ill, it also kills all the amazingly good bacteria which are essential for us to have a healthy gut biome. Pasteurised cheese tends to have more of a caramel flavour because heat treating the milk burns the lactic sugar, but using raw milk gives a much greater depth of flavour and added seasonal variation.

Organic milk is sourced in the Teifi valley, and cheese is produced 5 days a week. The milk is collected early in the morning from a local farm and arrives in the cheese vat in less than two hours, with 1500 litres used to make each batch of cheese. The milk is collected warm instead of the usual 4ºc. This saves large amounts of energy in both cooling and reheating in the cheese making process, and keeps the milk at the ideal temperature for the good bacteria to thrive.

In total 14 people work at Glynhynod. John, Patrice, and Paula are now less involved in the day to day running of the business. The quality of the staff – particularly their head cheesemaker Tim Mitchell who has been with the business for over two decades – is praised by John and Patrice’s sons, John-James and Rob, who have now taken over the reins of the business.

John Savage was born and raised in Holland of a Scottish mother, and had always had an interest in whisky. In 1992 John commissioned Springbank distillery in Scotland to make an organic whisky to celebrate the Millennium. In 2010 John obtained his own distillers’ licence, and the “Da Mhile” distillery (which translates to “two thousand” in Scots-Gaelic) was established. All the alcohol produced on the farm is distilled using home grown wood.

Their cheeses and spirits are sold direct to customers through their own farm shop, Carmarthen covered market, and online. They also sell through wholesalers Castell Howell, Caws Cymru and Blas ar Fwyd. Their farm shop stocks the full range of Caws Teifi Cheese, along with their home-produced distilled products whisky, gin, rum, vodka, and orange liqueur. Other valuable outlets for Glynhynod products are the numerous farmers markets the team attend. 

For the future Rob would like to milk his own Welsh Black cows. While they are currently only kept as beef sucklers, the Castle Martin type cows he has are ideal for dairy production, being milkier than the traditional Welsh Black suckler cow found across the UK. This would enable Caws Teifi Cheese to control all aspects of production. For now, their milk suppliers get a premium to aim for the highest standards to help produce a quality artisan product.

The future brings many challenges for small food producers, however, Caws Teifi Cheese and Da Mhile distillery look forward with confidence with an ethos based on the pursuit of excellence. The numerous awards and trophies accumulated over the years are a testimony to quality of the produce from West Wales and the hard work and ingenuity of this remarkable farming family.

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