Passion for North Wales grasslands helps grow range of cheeses
Carrie Rimes never tires of the drive to the sheep farm on the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales, where she collects milk to make her cheese.
“It’s a very bosky part of the world,” she says. “Damp meadows, high hedgerows and tree-lined fields, but with views of the hills. Everywhere is covered in pink campions at the moment.”
The scenery is so beautiful that she often stops to take photos and plans to create a gallery on her computer, set to music written by her fiddle-playing son.
Rimes’ interest in nature is deeply rooted. She grew up on a farm in West Devon, where she made cheese with her mother in the kitchen, and has spent her adult life in the wilds of North Wales, where she worked for 24 years as a grassland scientist, researching the ecology and conservation of Welsh grasslands.
When her son left for university in 2011, she took a different direction, learning to make cheese in France, eventually spending three years on a farm in the Auvergne. She also acquired more understanding of how dairy farming and nature can work together.
“As an ecologist, I got so fed up with species-rich grasslands being treated as museum pieces,” she says. “We need to make economic use of their biodiversity, which is second nature in France, where they understand that flower-filled meadows make interesting cheese.”
Her experiences underpin her cheese business Cosyn Cymru (‘Welsh Truckle’), which she set up in 2015, after returning from France with the idea of making Welsh sheep’s cheese. Initially, she struggled to find farmers to work with, but Rimes has slowly managed to encourage three local farms to move into grass-fed sheep’s milk, which she uses to make several unpasteurised cheeses. The most well-known of these is the lactic Brefu Bach (‘Little Bleat’) that recently picked up the coveted James Aldridge Memorial Trophy from the SCA.
The supplying farms are tiny, even by artisan cheese standards. Derwen Gam (‘Crooked Oak’) on the Llŷn Peninsula milks just 80 Llŷn breed sheep. Rimes also collects from an Anglesey start-up with 100 Lacaune/East Friesians and a farm on the edge of Snowdonia National Park with a mixed flock of traditional breeds. The land they graze bursts with plants, such as yarrow, red clover, butterfly orchids and wild thyme.
“We used to have a mosaic of different grasslands, but these are rapidly disappearing,” says Rimes. “A lot of milk isn’t produced on grass at all in this country and if animals are grass-fed, they are often on sugar-rich rye grass and clover, which produces loads of milk. Having a mixture of grasses, herbs and flowers is less productive, but you get much richer, more interesting milk for cheesemaking. It’s also much better for insect life, bird populations, soil health, carbon storage and reducing nitrogen run-off.”
Cosyn Cymru takes around 16,000 litres of milk a year from the farms, which equates to 350-500 Brefu Bach and 40kg of hard cheese a week, made by Rimes in space rented from Anglesey cheesemaker Caws Rhyd Y Delyn. Work is nearly finished on Cosyn Cymru’s own dairy at a former church in Bethesda, near Snowdonia, which will feature specialist maturing rooms, plus capacity to handle up to 70,000 litres of milk a year. It should be operational by the autumn, ready for the first flush of spring milk in 2022.
This is good news for delis and farm shops across the UK, who will be able to buy Rimes’ cheeses more easily, but also for the grasslands of North Wales.