Running a cheese club has it benefits – not least our fun cheesy events, and the constant supply of delicious curd – but imagine my surprise when we received an invitation to the grand opening of The Courtyard Dairy Specialist Cheese Refiner and Purveyer in Settle!
Unfortunately Vickie could not make it (something about a proper job), so I headed off alone on a delightful, clear, sunny day up to Settle on a quest for cheese...
Now, make no mistake, Settle is quite a drive. It's way up beyond the thriving metropolis of Keighley and the exotic spires of Shipley, deep into the wilds of North Yorkshire. That said, it only took about an hour driving through glorious countryside and rolling farmlands – which got me in the mood for a nibble, and also made me feel like a proper town-mouse.
Judging from the website photos, I was looking out for a small stone-built shop, but The Courtyard Dairy is actually part of quite a large place that includes a Brasserie, a wine shop and a couple of cool looking retail outlets - all around a large, well-appointed courtyard (see what they have done there). There's plenty of parking and I arrived right on time and was welcomed by Andy Swinscoe – the co-owner and affineur, and his partner Kathy.
The Courtyard Dairy itself is compact, perfectly-sized for keeping cheese just right, and beautifully laid out.
However, before we got access to the place... the ribbon (and cheese) had to be cut by The Duchess of Northumberland – which was done with some aplomb.
Once the opening speeches and the ceremonial cheese cutting was complete, the event began - with foodie types rubbing shoulders with expert cheesemakers, and many keen members of the public from far and wide.
I made a beeline for the raclette – where two fellas were producing plates of squashed new potatoes, home made cucumber pickles, English pickled onions with hot, melted raclette poured over the top... amazing.
Next was a table laid out with delicious cheeses – scrummy Kirkham Lancashire, crumbly Dale End Cheddar, Tunworth English Camembert, tangy French Bleu Des Causses and the extraordinary Dorstone from Herefordshire. There was also some tasty charcuterie and some top-notch cheese biscuits...
The atmosphere was great, and there was a nice bit of vino for those lucky enough not to be driving. I had some excellent real lemonade which went surprisingly well with the cheese...
Andy is young, energetic and experienced with all aspects of cheese – especially in the fine art of keeping cheese so that when you get to eat it, it is in the very best condition. He has been lucky enough to spend time with Herve Mons in France – widely regarded as the finest affineur in the world.
Affinage is a real art and something that sets apart truly authentic cheese-monger. The affineur is trained in keeping and maturing cheese and when you buy from someone like Andy, you can be sure that everything will be perfectly ready and at its peak of condition.
And that is the main thing about The Courtyard Dairy – the expertise and quality are second to none.
The final event was the 'Chuck a Truckle' competition – with a huge piece of Kirkham Lancashire as a prize. Now, normally I am not the most competitive person in the world, but when there is cheese at stake – and the reputation Homage2Fromage - I was determined to win at all costs.
The idea was to hurl an 8kg Stilton Truckle as far over a stone wall as possible. My first effort (which almost pulled my shoulder out of its socket) became the one to beat.
everyone had a turn (even the Duchess) some had two, but my throw
looked a winner. Then, suddenly, near the end, someone threw high and
long and took pole position...
I checked the rules. I was due a second throw. I took an extra long run up, and shot-put the Stilton with all my strength. To my delight I pinched first place and the prize was mine!
Let's face it, Settle is a long way from Leeds and you'd probably have to combine a visit to The Courtyard Dairy with something else – walking, staying over, this the most beautiful part of the word, with some great places to see, walk, and some good eateries and lovely small hotels and B&Bs.
But, get yourself out here and at the very least you will get hold of some brilliant cheese and charcuterie. Andy and Kathy are two of the most passionate and knowledgeable cheese retailers I have met, and his shop is a source of stunningly well-kept cheese and delicious charcuterie. Well worth the drive...
A65, Settle, BD24 9JY
Tel. 01729 892 902