Ben and Catherine Mead, directors and owners of Lynher Dairies (home of Cornish Yarg), produce cheese that is both great and good.
Pengreep Farm Ltd, a family farm in West Cornwall comprises two main enterprises: a 130 dairy herd and a cheese-making business which produces 200 tonnes of handmade speciality farmhouse cheese per year, operating on sound ecological and sustainable principles.
Ben and Catherine’s cows are 100% grass fed. As milk prices dropped and Ben pursued what he calls, “a nitrogen-fuelled drive” to produce more milk, he noticed a reduction in the health of his herd. He wanted to know why and undertook 18 months of international travel and research to find the answer. His Nuffield scholarship report outlines a number of conclusions, one of the most significant being that pasture quality affects livestock and ultimately human health. Ben’s research feeds directly into the ‘healthy soil healthy life’ ethos at Pengreep Farm.
A walk with Catherine around the farm, which has been in the Mead family since the 17th century, is testament to Ben’s ecologically sound principles. A curly coated Mangalitza pig comes grunting and thundering down the walled kitchen garden as Catherine explains that head gardener Rob oversees fruit, veg, pigs and chickens, as a means of providing staff with high quality produce at a ‘notional’ price. The pigs are a new addition and feed on the waste cheese and curd trimmings.
Inside the dairy it is young men who dominate the physical labour that is the cheese making process – the stirring and ‘blocking’ (cutting of the curd) – while women feature strongly in nettle picking and ‘painting’ (application of the nettles onto the cheese) which give Yarg its signature appearance and ‘lacy good looks.’
Did you know that:
– Each nettle site has to be carefully vetted beforehand – only sites which are ‘clean’ are chosen. Factors be taken into consideration are: proximity to farm fields, roads and dog walkers.
– All nettles are picked and packed within 24 hours – they are the ‘petits pois’ of the plant industry
– There is a two month window for picking which normally runs from May to June.
– -Three tonnes of nettles are picked every year, that’s the equivalent of two shipping containers
– A good nettle leaf is large and thick with no holes and no stem
– Prime nettle picking sites are closely guarded by the experts!
– An accomplished picker can harvest up to a kilo an hour
Five nettle facts
1) Nettles lose their sting once cooked or frozen
2) It’s widely believed that they have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
3) They are rich in minerals and vitamins A and C
4) Other nettle products include porridge, tea, soup, beer and nettle pudding.
5) According to the original food forager Richard Mabey nettles contain 2.3 per cent by weight of iron and a massive 5.5 per cent of protein.
Best ways to eat Yarg:
Catherine’s advice is to eat it with fruit: “I love it with pear and apple, definitely not grapes because they are too acidic whereas beetroot really complements the acid of the cheese. It has a really low melting point and my boys love Yarg toasties.”
Buy traditional Yarg, heart-shaped truckles or the delicious Wild Garlic Yarg from lynherdairies.co.uk.