Whilst out and about on the Sandstone Ridge, this member of the Webteam came across what might mildly be called an 'obsession'. Others might refer to it as a 'passion' but, be assured, Anne Clayton of Larkton Hall Farm, situated in the historic parish of Larkton near Malpas, has succeeded in bringing a delicious range of authentic-style Italian cheeses to The Sandstone Ridge.
Having lived and worked in the Italian Alps for the best part of 20 years, Anne then fell for a Sandstone Ridge Farmer who per chance was skiing in the area. The rest is history as they say, since it was her husband who actively encouraged Anne to turn her skills to cheese-making.
With a herd of 350 Holstein Friesian cattle right on her doorstep, Anne immediately enrolled on a Cheese-Making Course at Reaseheath College. Having honed the basic skills, Anne returned to her Italian connections and to friends (particularly 'Beny') who made cheese for fun! With their help, commitment and guidance she is now the proud producer of a selection of award-winning cheeses in the Italian style.
Sounds simple — take it from this reporter that it is not! Whilst interviewing Anne and touring her cheese-making facilities, I viewed brine baths, mould presses, the most wonderful 200 litre-capacity copper kettle, discussed how humidity and temperature affect the size of the curds and learned how milk yields change significantly throughout the year depending on weather conditions and grazing regimes, all of which impact on the colour of the cheese.
Anne specialises in just three cheeses: 'Federia' (a hard cheese), 'Crabtree' (a semi-hard cheese) and 'The Cheese with No Name' (mixed with 10% goats' milk). She is the recipient of both Gold and Silver Awards for British Cheese Makers and her cheeses are stocked in a variety of specialist cheese shops and delicatessens throughout the country. That said, you will often see Anne at local farmers' markets too.
Anne's connection to The Sandstone Ridge is obvious — her family farm just over 300 acres of the Cheshire countryside. Importantly for Anne, however, the distinctiveness of her cheese also comes back to the landscape. Her 'Crabtree' cheese takes its name from the historic 'Crabtree Field', listed on the Tithe Maps, and on which the herd graze. You get the sense that this remarkable story has come full circle. Watch this space, however, as Anne begins to experiment with cumin, chilli and oregano too!
My thanks to both Anne and her husband for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their story.
Click on each image to enlarge — you can almost smell the cheese in the maturing room!