Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 17:03 UK

Creamery celebrates 70th birthday

cheese store
Cheese heaven in the store piled 45 ft high with products.

by Wena Alun Owen
BBC News

The phrase 'more cheese' probably makes you think of the cheese-mad cartoon film character Wallace.

The Wallace and Gromit films probably also inspired a generation of children to utter the words... "don't forget the crackers" too.

There won't be any crackers - well apart from in the buffet tent - at the celebration to mark 70 years of production at South Caernarfon Creameries.

What there is though is cheese - giant store-rooms piled high with thousands of tonnes of the stuff.

It is impossible to live in this part of Wales without seeing South Caernarfon Creamery lorries daily.

What happens to the thousands of gallons of the white stuff they carry might not be well-known though.

South Caernarfon Creameries lorry
The lorries are familiar on the roads of north and mid Wales.

Much of what goes into the plant near Chwilog comes out pretty much the same - in the shape of milk cartons (or the increasingly popular bags).

Otherwise it is cheese, although in a competitive market the company needs to stay ahead, and the emphasis is on adding value, and having a foothold in more than one market, according to creamery chief executive Alan Jones.

"That way we are not dependent on one part of the market", he said.

Entering the actual production area - well viewing areas, no-one apart from the workers are allowed into the actual work areas - it is a little like another world where little 'aliens' wear fetching white coats and blue hair nets.

We were taken round by cheese store manager Ken Evans, who had seemingly boundless facts, figures and enthusiasm for his product.

Mr Evans described the factory as a "really friendly place, where everyone knows each other. A really important employer for the area".

cheese making
Cheese making begins as the curds form

Quality control is frighteningly high - constant testing, tasting - the cheese is put through a metal detecting machine twice during production, and there is a lab on site.

Cheese batches can be traced to the individual day and batch it was made up, so any problems can be traced, said Mr Evans.

Big customers include Marks and Spencer and supermarkets Morrisons and Asda.

Producer Jean Coker lives at Boduan near Pwllheli, from where the family farm supplies 700,000 litres of milk each year, from their 70-strong Holstein herd.

Mrs Coker has been involved with the creamery for 50 years and sees it as "very important because the farmers own it".

In contrast farmer Huw Jones from Rhuddlan in Denbighshire only joined the co-op three years ago.

His 220 Friesian cows produce 1.6 million litres of milk annually.

"I've never been on a tour of the plant before, and it's really nice to see what happens to our milk," he said.

Bruce MacDonald

The trick is to get it right and then keeping it right

Bruce MacDonald, cheese expert

Cheese production manager Geraint Hughes has the job of 'test running' new cheeses.

It is done in a smaller area as the 'real' production unit deals in vast vats holding 5,000-worth of milk at a time.

As expected the whole milk/cheese processes is very mechanised, apart from two things during the cheese-making.

Salt is added by hand, and cheese trundles are waxed by hand "because it's the best way".

The cheese making process takes 24-hours and then the cheese is left to mature - usually for at least three-months, depending on the type, before the cheese grader gets a taste.

Trained over a number of years "experience is the only way to do it really" the grader - Dic Mann spoke to us - looks at, smells and then tastes the cheese.

This attention to detail was also mentioned by Bruce MacDonald and Guy Johnston from Dairygold Haslington Cheese.

As men who source cheese for different markets both said the creamery was "well respected" in a world where anyone can make cheese, but keeping a consistently high standard is "difficult".

"Making cheese is an alchemy as you change liquid into a solid," said Mr MacDonald.

And the top tip from the experts.....

All the cheese men, (there were women workers, but I only happened to speak to the men) when pushed, said their personal favourites of the 13 different cheeses on offer at the creamery was the extra mature cheddar.

"The stronger the cheddar the better," they said.

Members of the public can go on the tour themselves on Saturday 16 August from 1030 BST.




SEE ALSO
New creamery secures jobs
15 May 03 |  Wales
Dairy fined for fake Welsh cheese
02 Dec 05 |  North West Wales

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