Posted: 07/04/2020

Pitched perfect

Well known for their Caerphilly, the Trethowans are now enjoying success with Pitchfork cheddar.

The Trethowan brothers are standing in their cheese store looking strangely exhilarated at the sight before them. At first glance it would appear that not a lot is happening in the room, which is filled with dozens of truckles of cheddar quietly maturing on wooden boards. But it’s precisely this slow, imperceptible ageing process that has got the two cheesemakers so fired up.

Todd and Maugan Trethowan have been making crumbly Gorwydd Caerphilly for more than 20 years. But, after moving the business from Wales to Puxton Park in Somerset (five miles north of Cheddar) in 2014, they couldn’t resist making a raw milk cheddar – christened Pitchfork. It’s clear to see they are relishing the challenge of making a new cheese.

“It’s very exciting for us,” says Todd Trethowan. “We’re still learning all the time, recording everything we do, from temperatures and times to texture and flavour. But the feedback loop is so long. You make a change, but you can’t see what difference that makes for a whole year.”

They are obviously quick learners judging by the almost instant success of Pitchfork, which launched in 2018 and was named Best British Cheese at the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, taking fourth spot overall from a field of 3,804 cheeses. Gorwydd also did well, picking up a SuperGold and coming 11th.

The success has boosted sales of both cheeses, with around 30 tonnes of Caerphilly expected to be made this year and production of Pitchfork increased from 30 to 50 tonnes, all of which has already been secured by customers,

including Neal’s Yard, Harvey & Brockless and Paxton & Whitfield.

“The awards have massively helped,” says Todd. “We’re having to manage expectations – people want more than they can get.”

The brothers have been able to hit the ground running, partly because of their experience as cheesemakers but also because other producers have been happy to share knowledge and advice. Fellow cheddar-maker Westcombe even matured early batches of Pitchfork in its cave before the Trethowans had built theirs.

The quality of the milk at Puxton Park is also a contributing factor, says Maugan, and one of the reasons the brothers decided to move the business from its previous home in Ceredigion. Owned by the Mead family, the 1,600-acre organic farm is home to a herd of 120 pedigree Holstein and Jersey cows. “We’d never seen a milking parlour so immaculate,” he adds.

Building the dairy from scratch has cost around £700k, some of which was covered by a Rural Development grant, but it also required a huge personal investment by the family.

“It’s a real luxury – halfway through your career – to be able to build a dairy from a blank sheet,” says Maugan. “We had a list of things that irritated us in the old place that we could design out of the new place, but we’re cheesemakers not accountants or builders so it was scary taking on such a big project.”

The gamble seems to have paid off, but they are taking nothing for granted. The copious note- taking continues as they strive to improve the cheese. The brothers’ cheese irons, in particular, are getting through a lot of work.

“We constantly taste the cheeses, at three, six, nine and 12 months, so we can get to know them better,” says Todd. “We’d like to do more but we don’t want to leave too many holes in them.”

This story appeared in the April issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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