Cheese, Please - the Lynher Dairies, famous for its production of Cornish Yarg

PUBLISHED: 15:04 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013

Cornish Yarg covered with wild garlic

Cornish Yarg covered with wild garlic

In this April issue, we visit Lynher Dairies, famous for its production of Cornish Yarg, the well-known speciality cheese. In fact, with its covering of nettles, Cornish Yarg is probably the most famous and easily recognised of all Cornwall's spec...

With its covering of nettles, Cornish Yarg is probably the most famous and easily recognised of all Cornwall's speciality cheeses. First made in Withiel by Alan and Jenny Gray (Yarg is 'Gray' spelled backwards), in 1984 they sold the recipe to Michael and Margaret Horrell who farmed at Upton Cross, near Bodmin. In 1995, the Horrells met the Meads, a farming family who were looking into diversification. Catherine Mead worked with the Horrells in developing the business, which progressed so well that by 2001 a second dairy was built at the Mead's Pengreep Farm, which lies halfway between Lanner and Ponsanooth. When the Horrells retired in 2006, all production of Yarg then moved to Pengreep Farm.

Today, Lynher Dairies at Pengreep Farm processes two million litres of milk a year, which comes from their own herd of Holstein/Friesian cows as well as from ten other local herds, ending up as more than 200 tonnes of cheese. "This may seem a lot of milk and cheese," explains Catherine, "But it's a small amount by industry standards. However, we are a large business in this rural area, employing 30 full-time staff, most of whom travel less than three miles to come to work."

Yarg is a delicious semi-hard cheese that is covered with nettles. Logic should dictate that the nettles would be farmed and harvested like any other crop, but this isn't the case. "We tried that," Catherine continues. "In 2003 we gave a batch of nettle seeds to the Trenoweth Research and Development Centre at St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly. They grew some plants and we put them out, but they quickly grew long stems and went to seed." So, despite their fearsome reputation, nettles are not tough or vigorous plants, but like being protected from strong wind and bright sunshine, which is why they grow best in sheltered places, such as in woodland and hedges. "We decided it was easier for us to pick the leaves from places where we knew nettles grew well," Catherine explains. All our nettles are picked in Cornwall, from Penzance to the Tamar, and we need over 3,500kg of leaves to make our Yarg each year." A team of 20 pickers scours the countryside any time from mid-March onwards, suitably gloved and protected from the nasty sting.

Nettles have been used in medicine for thousands of years and even today they have been proved to alleviate a whole range of symptoms, from arthritis to head lice. They are rich in vitamins A and C, and can be used to make products such as soup, tea, beer, and not just the scrumptious Yarg cheese. Once picked, the nettles are rinsed and steamed before being used to wrap the cheese, to which they give a subtle, mushroomy flavour. The leaves are brushed onto the cheese, producing various moulds which help the cheese ripen, finishing off as a lacy pattern of blue-green.

"We also looked at lots of other leaves that we could use to cover our cheese and in the end we came up with garlic leaves," says Catherine. "These have completely different properties to nettle leaves. The cheese is made in exactly the same way, but garlic leaves contain more moisture, are more pungent and take longer for the moulds to grow, so the end result is a crumblier, more mature cheese, with a delicate garlic flavour." Wild garlic grows prolifically in moist, semi-shaded conditions, as anyone who has taken a springtime walk in our Cornish woods will testify.

Cornish Yarg and Wild Garlic Yarg are very popular, not just here in Cornwall but nationally, and in the US. Despite both cheeses winning Gold Awards in the Bath and West and Taste of the West competitions, and Gold in the World Cheese and British Cheese Awards, Catherine insists that Lynher Dairies has no plans to make more cheese. "We were very lucky to have the support of DEFRA and to get Objective One Funding money," she explains. "It allowed us to grow more quickly and have better machinery, and we invest heavily in people, making sure our staff have plenty of training. If we made more cheese we'd need a bigger building, more cows and more staff, but we can always improve on the product itself."

Lynher Dairies is currently looking at changing the farming system of Pengreep's own herd. "We aim to entirely grass-feed our cows and to grow the grass in healthier, nitrogen-free soil." Catherine continues. "If the herd's health is better because of it, the cows will produce better milk, and hence better cheese. We are looking at making an entirely new cheese from this milk - watch this space!"

Cornish Yarg and Wild Garlic Yarg have a variety of culinary uses. "You don't just have to eat them on their own, or with biscuits," says Catherine. "We have recipes for Cornish Yarg and spinach sausages, prawns with a leek, dill and Cornish Yarg sauce, as well as cheesy risotto," she adds. "Yarg and Wild Garlic Yarg will remain fresh for ten days from cutting, or for 42 days if kept uncut in the fridge."

But this cheese is so tasty that there's no chance of it being ignored for so long! If you can't find the cheese locally, then try Cheese-by-Post - a 900g truckle of Cornish Yarg or Wild Garlic Yarg is 15.95 - see the website for recipes and details.

Lynher Dairies, Pengreep Dairy, Ponsanooth, Truro TR3 7JQ,

(01872 870789 or visit www.lynherdairies.co.uk

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