Great cheesemakers at Kent’s farmers’ markets

PUBLISHED: 11:23 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:23 10 March 2020

Robin Betts of Winterdale Cheesemakers (photo: Severien Vits)

Robin Betts of Winterdale Cheesemakers (photo: Severien Vits)

Severien Vits

Focus on producers, makers and growers who have all been helped by Kent Farmers’ Market Association

Kent is not traditionally known for dairy farming - the Garden of England has been far more associated with fruit growing - which is why, having several award-winning cheeses being produced within the county, is a real feather in the cap and a draw for visitors to our markets.

The Betts family has been working its farm in Wrotham since 1946, although the family was living on the land from the 1490s. As vehicles hurtle along the nearby M20, the drivers would not imagine this adjacent, idyllic scene of around 100 Friesian cows grazing on Kentish pastures, with chickens, goats and pigs.

In 2006, as milk prices in the UK tumbled, Robin and Carla Betts decided to diversify and agreed that Robin's brother and sister-in-law would continue to look after the cows, while they concentrated on making cheese. Their priority was not only to handmake a delicious product but to ensure this project was as environmentally sound as the cheese itself. While building their barn, which was also going to be the family home, they installed solar panels, dug out a cheese-ripening cave, which was naturally cool and required no additional refrigeration, and later added a wind turbine, known as Tilly. Incredibly, they now produce roughly 30 per cent more power than they need each year and this excess moves up to serve the adjacent village of Fairseat. They have also bought two electric vehicles, beautifully branded, to deliver the cheese wherever possible.

Cheese ripening in Winterdale's 'cave' (photo: Severien Vits)Cheese ripening in Winterdale's 'cave' (photo: Severien Vits)

Robin and Carla realised that many producers were having to use excessive amounts of energy to get the milk to temperature each time they began the curdling process, which is why they decided to use the morning's milk each day, still naturally warm, straight from the animals.

Both of their cheeses - Winterdale Shaw and Winterdale Smoked, hard cheddar-style varieties - have been recognised at the World Cheese awards, winning silver and bronze - some feat considering more than 40,000 entries are received from around the globe. Last year they produced 18 tons and apart from a few still ripening in their cloths, have sold it all.

As well as helping with the production, Carla also mans the market stalls, regularly attending Shipbourne, Hildenborough, Penshurt, Tunbridge Wells, Wimbledon and Blackheath. 'The markets are a great way to reach our customers directly and to tell our story but also to meet other producers, swap ideas and support each other. I admit to particularly enjoying the shorter markets such as Shipbourne, as I can go to market and still be home in time to help Robin wrap cheeses or maybe get the shop ready for the weekend where we sell our raw milk too.'

Kentish Blue by Kincott Dairy (photo: Severien Vits)Kentish Blue by Kincott Dairy (photo: Severien Vits)

In Staplehurst the Reynolds family has had huge success with its delicious Kentish Blue and more recently the Kingcott Blue developed by Frank, one of their sons.

Coming from a line of West Country dairy farmers, they also knew they'd have to do more than just sell milk to survive, so built the cheese room and started production in 2009. They too have won many accolades.

The French Delicatessen, run by Eric Chauvel, offers visitors more than nine of our markets cheese from the continent. While Eric doesn't make the cheese himself, he and his colleagues travel back and forth to France regularly and bring their findings back to ripen in Kent, so they are in a perfect condition when sold to the customers.

Eric's stock includes obscure varieties such as Tomme au Marc, a cheese ripened with the residue from the wine-making process and encrusted with grape pips.

At a dairy site near Lamberhurst, the Cheesemakers of Canterbury produce the hugely popular Ashmore Farmhouse and Ashmore Blue as well as making the award-winning Kelly's Canterbury hard goat's cheese, all of which are available from Cliftonville, Whitstable and Elham markets.

They also have 10 more cheese sellers at the markets including High Weald Dairy, Chillies Farm, Nut Knowle Farm and Ellies.

Find out more

For details of when and where you can find your favourite cheesemakers in Kent, visit kfma.org.uk

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