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Meet Wrotham cheesemaker Robin Betts

PUBLISHED: 16:08 12 September 2015 | UPDATED: 16:08 12 September 2015

Cheesemaker Robin Betts

Cheesemaker Robin Betts

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

The award-winning Kent cheesemaker on carbon-neutral cheese, supplying Fortnum and Mason and his exciting plans for the future

Name: Robin Betts

Job title: Cheese maker

Where: Wrotham

When did the farm start?

The Betts family has been farming since 1495! Our dairy farm was set up back in 1950 by my grandfather. In those days we were milking Aryshire cows a wonderfully hardy cow and very much suited to the inclement weather we often experience high up here on top of the North Downs.

Why diversify into cheese making?

Cheese making was an idea we had back in 2000 and it was a long, hard struggle to save up enough funds and then proceed to build the creamery. This all happened when my wife Carla was pregnant with our first child. We diversified into cheese making because there’s been a consistent struggle with milk prices and there was a need to create a more secure future.

By diversifying we could use our own milk and support the family business by paying a premium for a quality product.

We started the project in 2002 but made the first cheese in 2006, having trained at Reeseheath College in Nantwich for three days. We were trained by Val Bines and Chris Ashby of AB Cheesemaking.

We spent a long time researching cheese dairies and working with other cheese makers to find practices that worked for us.

your first cheese?

The first-ever cheese we made is the same one that we make now – Winterdale Shaw. We always had the idea of producing 
carbon-neutral cheese and actually started this ethos by using our own raw, warm, morning milk from the herd.

We also realised in the beginning that the maturing of the cheese was going to be the most energy hungry part, so with our ‘cheese cave’ idea, which remains at 10 -12 degrees C all year round, this meant no energy would be used to mature the cheese.

It was later in 2012 when we decided to invest in renewable technology, a ground-source heat pump and 44 solar panels.

Describe your day

Our working day starts with collecting the milk from the farm at around 8-8.30am. The milk is taken by tractor to the dairy only 300 yards up the lane. It is gravity fed into the cheese vat to help retain the fats and quality of the milk. We then start the cheesemaking process, which involves adding starter cultures and rennet to create the cheese. The milk is heated and during this time we’re tending to previously made cheese – either turning them or preparing them for the maturing ‘cave’ (see right).

After a short break the real process starts and this is where not only does the hard work start, but also the cheese begins to take shape. All the cheeses that are made during the day are placed into the press and left for 24 hours. By the end of the process we will have made 120kg of cheese.

Once the process is finished the entire dairy has to have a complete clean down. Any orders will be processed in readiness for the next day’s collection.

How do you market?

In the beginning we started marketing the cheese by attending many food shows and fairs. We attend Farmers’ Markets and cheese tastings at many locations. We present to groups such as the WI, U3A and lunch clubs and local schools. Currently we supply many farm shops, delis and small independent shops.

We also supply Waitrose local branches, Marks and Spencer and Fortnum and Mason. This year Winterdale Shaw has been selected for The Six Nations Rugby, Royal Ascot and the British Grand Prix.

How many people work with you?

Really there is just myself and my wife Carla making cheese. We have help with the shop on Saturdays and also help with the rubbing down and turning of cheeses.

Might your children follow you?

It is very early days as our children are only 10 and eight. They are very proud of the business and have a good understanding of the processes and of our goals, but only time will tell whether they want to take over in the future.

plans for the future?

We would really like to create a new cheese or two and continue with our own butter production. It would also be really great to have a couple of pigs that could be raised on whey, our by product.

job satisfaction?

While cheese making is a very physical, tiring job it is also very satisfying to see an end product and be proud of what has been achieved in quite a short period of time.

We feel we have done our job well when we start the year with Marks and Spencer selecting the cheese for 207 of its stores countrywide, restaurants at Royal Ascot serve Winterdale on their menus, we receive texts to say people have just had Winterdale at The British Grand Prix and we win a KEIBA (Kent Excellence in Business) Award. Now that’s satisfaction! w

Get in touch

Winterdale Cheese Barn

Platt House Lane

Wrotham, near Sevenoaks TN15 7LX

01732 820021 or robin@winterdale.co.uk

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