Farming, the Wyke way
Lorna Maybery meets a family making a carbon-neutral cheese on their Somerset farm
“We always want to make cheese we can be proud of, in a way we can be proud of,” says Rich Clothier, managing director at Wyke Farms, near Bruton in Somerset.
His family has a history of farming stretching back centuries, but the current dairy and cheesemaking operation began in the early 1900s with Rich’s grandmother Ivy, who developed the recipe for Ivy’s Reserve Vintage Cheddar, which, the farm says, is the first carbon-neutral cheeses in the UK.
“A lot of what we do in the business is quite reflective of the way my gran and grandad used to operate back in the 1930s and 40s,” says Rich. “They didn’t waste anything, never threw anything away, and everything they had they made and grew themselves. It was a sustainable circular model and we had tried to adopt that, but at the same time we are very lucky to have the science behind us now – so have renewable energy and anaerobic digesters that they never had.”
Rich is referring to myriad environmental resources they are now using on the farm, as they strive to be as green and sustainable as possible. And working in partnership with the Carbon
Trust, they have had their carbon use and savings audited and verified to validate their claim that Ivy’s Reserve Vintage Cheddar is indeed carbon-neutral.
“We wanted to work with Carbon Trust as they are leaders in the field of carbon measurements, and we wanted their affirmation so we can carry their logo into the international markets,” he says. “They audit the ‘cradle to grave process’ from when the milk’s journey starts at the farm through to when someone eats the cheese and they audit it to an international standard called PAS 2050, while the neutrality is audited to PAS 2060.”
PAS 2060 is the internationally-recognised specification for carbon neutrality and builds on the existing PAS 2050 environmental standard. It sets out requirements for quantification, reduction and offsetting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for organisations, products and events.
Rich explains: “We do a lot of work on the farms to reduce CO2 emissions through regenerative farming practices, but also through good management techniques. However, it’s the anaerobic digester (AD) plant that is the centre of our energy production and waste recovery for the whole of the business and the farms in the area.
“We take in all the waste from our own dairy and all farm waste and slurry, as well as taking waste from the local farms. We also take apple pumice from local cider mills when they are pressing, bread waste from supermarkets, cow muck, farm waste and end-of-season silage.”
With cheesemaking, the only element that isn’t used is the lactose – the solids go into the cheese, the whey is used for athletes’ drinks, leaving the simple, sugary lactose liquid and this also goes into the AD.
Bacteria then gets to work turning the solids into methane, which is collected and pumped into a filtration system to clean it up. It then runs one generator which produces power to go back on the grid. This green gas is fed to local villages and towns around the farms.
“Bruton is almost entirely powered by green gas from our plant – it’s about trying to develop a circular business where there is no such thing as waste, it all goes back into our anaerobic digester.
“We have a second gas pipeline that takes the remainder to the dairy to feed the generator and provide power there, which includes all the heat needed for the cheesemaking process.
“We put 20,000 cubic metres of green gas back into the grid every day here. That’s equivalent to producing about 20,000 litres of heavy oil in energy terms,” says Rich.
“We mix that in with solar power – we have panels on the roofs of the cheese dairy and the farms. The cows produce so much more milk over the spring and summer, which is exactly when the panels produce the most electricity. The cows produce milk at body temperature, and we must cool it as quickly as possible, so we use ice banks powered by stored solar energy to cool the milk. It’s a great application for renewables because to cool milk through electricity from 36 to 5 degrees takes a lot of energy. The great thing about ice banks is it’s a cheap way to store solar energy.”
Any leftover material is quite rich in nutrients and is spread on the land to grow the crops around the area. The farm has just put a storage facility up on Salisbury Plain so that they can take the digestate and organic material from the plant and store it for when farmers need to spread the organic fertiliser onto their crops.
“With fertiliser so expensive currently, it saves the local farmers a lot of money as well. We don’t charge them for it, they help contribute towards the spreading of it.”
Rich is also keen to look after the natural world and wildlife on the farm and to make sure the soil is made a priority, as good soil means nutritious grass and well-fed cows which will produce premium quality milk.
“I believe that if you look after nature, nature will look after you and I think for us as a family who have farmed for generations, it provides our living, it provides our food and is our home so why wouldn’t you want to look after it?” he says.
He points to a field covered in lush grass intermingled with nutritious clover and explains that the field is a clover ley undersown with grass.
“We don’t grow maize, but do have a lot of clover because it’s high in protein. It’s for forage feed for the cows and is also good for the soil as it helps stop soil erosion and run-off as it covers the soil year-round. Clover is quite drought-resistant and the roots quite deep so it nitrogen fixes as well. It’s not for grazing, it’s for forage. It’s spread around when the cows come in for milking for them to feed on. What we are trying to do is get as much milk as we can from our own homegrown crops, and grass and clover will help the cows produce the best milk for cheesemaking.”
And cheesemaking is what the business is all about. His family has been making cheese for several hundred years and it’s still a family-run farm, with Rich and his brother Tom looking after the cheesemaking and cousins Dave and Roger taking care of the farm.
Today, they are making about 18,500 tonnes of cheddar per year and are selling into about 160 countries, including Africa, Asia, parts of North America and Canada, China, Singapore, and South Korea.
“It’s mainly the Ivy’s Reserve Vintage Cheddar, named after my grandmother, that we sell into the export market. It’s her original recipe and sells across the world and yet she never left Somerset. She would be blown away to know that her Cheddar is in places like America.”
At any one time, there is about 12,000 tonnes of Cheddar in store in the giant warehouse, all in wooden boxes, all maturing. Ivy’s vintage is usually matured for about 18 months to two years.
“You can’t rush things like flavour,” Rich smiles, “it’s all part of the natural process.
“Our recipe was designed for cheese going into a barn on the farm, so my grandmother had a barn that would have been between 12 and 15 degrees all year round. If you chill it down you are changing the recipe, so we heat the store in the winter and cool it in the summer to keep it between 12 and 15 degrees, and that makes the cheese develop at the right speed and the right flavours.”
The cheese is checked as it nears its full maturity to make sure it hits all the flavour and texture profiles that makes the cheese so popular.
Rich says: “Our Cheddar is a perfectly natural recipe with no additives and just a bit of salt. What we are looking for is the texture, is it breaking open beautifully. It should have an almost rugged, geographic look to the curd. When eating it, if you rub it against the roof of your mouth you can try to pick out all the different flavour profiles, so we are looking at savoury notes, sweet notes, buttery notes, a little bit of bite there as well. We call that a complexity of flavour. It’s rounded, so all the flavour should build up in the mouth, unlike some cheeses that are too sharp.
“It takes 10 litres of milk to make a kilo of cheese, so it’s important we have the best local milk from all the farms because any slight flavour in the milk is amplified 10-fold. Then, when you age it for two years, the flavours are further amplified, so if you have any slight deviations on day one, by the time you get to 600 days down the road you can have all sorts of strange flavours. So, to have a cheese of this age with a clean, rounded flavour profile with no other flavours coming in is a fantastic articulation of the quality of the local milk and good cheesemaking.”
Keeping true to his grandparent’s original recipe and their sustainable living ethos is important to the family, and Rich is proud of the carbon-neutral status of their vintage Cheddar.
“We must do what we can to mitigate climate change and make sure we produce dairy that people can enjoy that is made in the most environmentally responsible way. That’s so important. You want to get up in the morning being proud of what you do and how you do it and knowing you are doing things the right way, so it will be there for the next generation.
“That’s one of things that drives me and the family – to go to bed at night and say I have done the best job I can.”
Rich’s tips on getting the most from your cheese
“We thought red wine should be paired with Cheddar, but a French colleague and expert says he’d always put a white against a vintage Cheddar; they both improve each other on the palate, whereas if you have a red wine with the cheddar, the cheese will smooth out the wine, but the wine won’t do anything for the cheese. Try a nice dry white like a Muscadet with a vintage Cheddar.
“Another tip is to get it out of the fridge a couple of hours before eating because it wants to be room temperature and it changes the whole fat and flavour profile making it taste different when it’s cold.
“My gran never put cheese in the fridge and always had a cheese dish on the side. Most of the year it’s fine. If there was a bit of mould on the surface, she would just cut it off. If it never grew mould, you’d have to start to worry about what was in it.”
If you want to try Wyke Farms cheeses, they are available at most major supermarkets or you can visit their online farm shop at: wykefarms.com/product-category/farm-shop