D&S column: an introduction to the art of cheese grading

After the week in Westminster, it was invigorating to be out in the fresh air of the Yorkshire Dales last Friday.

I was very encouraged to find a good number of people in Hawes. Visitors are returning, fairly gradually, but the signs are very promising.

Like the queue – socially-distanced, of course – to enter the newly-re-opened visitor centre at the Wensleydale Creamery.

The appetite for visiting our area – and for Wensleydale’s award-winning cheese – is stronger than ever.

The Creamery is keen to welcome tourists – and locals – back to the visitor centre, cheese shop, cheese experience and the café/restaurant. And as you might imagine in an environment where hygiene and bio-security is essential anyway, the Covid-19 precautions are first class.

During my visit, I heard how production of cheese had been maintained throughout, providing stable employment and, crucially, a market for the forty-plus dairy farmers up and down the dale who provide the milk which makes the authentic Yorkshire Wensleydale.

About which I now know a little bit more having been introduced to the art of cheese-grading – how to insert a cheese iron into the heart of a whole cheese to assess the state of its ripeness. It’s not easy!

I was also pleased to hear how the development of the company’s online mail order business as a way to retain customers at the heart of the crisis has led to the Creamery investing in it further for long-term market growth.

I also had a go at packing one of the Creamery’s online deli boxes – again it’s not as easy as you might think. I hope the mail order box of Wensleydale Creamery goodness arrives at its intended destination intact!

During my time in Hawes I called at a number of local retail businesses to see how they were faring.

Some, like the Blades family at the Spar and Richard Allen at Elijah Allen and Son, have been open throughout providing essential groceries and supplies for local people.

Others, like the Alchemist’s Cottage – a real pot pourri of a shop selling artisan teas and coffees, chocolate, health foods and much more – only re-opened last month.

Owner Catherine Eastham told me she had furloughed her staff and a received a £10,000 small business grant which compensated for the loss of £5,000 worth of out-of-date, perishable stock she’d had to dispose of. For her business, the return of visitors is absolutely vital.

At the Fountain Hotel, Mandy and Angus McCarthy had everything in place to keep their customers safe, including a giant teddy bear in the middle of a window seat to ‘enforce’ social distancing.

I was delighted to see they have signed up for my Eat Out to Help Out initiative. The 50 per cent discount scheme on food served in pubs, restaurants and cafés starts in 10 days’ time. Please encourage your favourite eatery to sign up too.

Finally, I called at the Hawes Community Office to thank some of the local Covid-19 support group volunteers, led by Abbie Rhodes, for their efforts over the last four months. Demand for their services is thankfully reducing but there are still people shielding who require help. The volunteers have done, and continue to do, a great job.