My never-ending “food trail” brings me close not just to what I eat, but the inspirational people who put food on our table. One day it could be a vegetable grower, baker or fisherman, the next day a breeder of the most amazing shorthorn beef or specialist independent retailer selling delicious regional foods. I never tire of meeting amazing people in fabulous places. Some of the most stunning locations boasting glorious countryside and abundant nature is without a doubt literally on my doorstep in the heart of Yorkshire, a place I love more than anywhere I have ever traveled.
About five years ago I met and lovely young couple with ruddy cheeks and smiling faces and a passion for a particular food I adore – cheese! Andy and Cathy Swinscoe opened their tiny shop just outside Settle in the Yorkshire Dales and the “Courtyard Dairy” was born, with a small range of carefully selected cheeses made by artisan producers in the UK and a couple of specialties from Italy and Switzerland. This little pandora’s box of well -“everything cheese!” soon became a firm favourite and lucky for me I had the opportunity to work with Andy at a series of special dinners cooked by one of the best young chefs in the UK. Adam Smith was at that time head chef at the famous Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey after nearly 10 years at the Ritz in London he soon fell in love with the “Yorkshire Larder” and the passionate people who supplied his restaurant kitchen with stunning produce.
You will have noticed the lovely cheese in the photograph but may not have noticed the copper cheese making cauldron on the top shelf. This kind of pan was used as a primitive form of a vat to make small quantities of cheese from just a few cows on farms who were usually self-sufficient. This particular cauldron belonged to Mary Reid, who was the great-grandmother of Andy, it would have been used to make Gloucester cheese every day early in the twentieth century. It’s wonderful how now two generations on Andy is what I can only describe as a “Cheese Curator” he has as much passion and knowledge of each and every cheese in his shop as the cheesemakers who produce it in their own small dairies.
In 2016 the Swinscoe’s took a leap of faith and invested every single penny they had plus support from a local rural development grant which enabled them to move to larger premises to accommodate their growing business. In 2017 the new Courtyard Dairy opened it’s doors at the former Yorkshire Dales Falconry Centre just a few miles up the road on the way to Kendal. This beautiful location has not only provided a larger shop but a cheese cafe run by Cathy too and a home for their children Mary and Walter.
Andy also runs beginner courses for budding new cheesemakers sharing the skills and techniques he learned in France and Switzerland which inspired him to become a cheesemonger. They provide jobs for the local community, work in harmony with the environment and give over thirty artisan cheese makers the ability to have their cheese sold and enjoyed by people who love their crafted products as much as they do.
I wonder if in another two generations time Mary and Walter will be sharing their cheese making skills and knowledge with their family?