Tell us a bit about you
I’m a Lancashire lass who moved from Preston to Llandudno eight years ago having moved jobs from UCLan to Bangor University, taking my husband and two young boys with me. The leadership programme I work on is called 20 twenty, so I am surrounded by entrepreneurs and business owners which is incredibly inspiring. North Wales is a fabulous place to live, close to amazing beaches but not too far from the mountains. I’ve always worked in education and having then recently completed an MBA I had a lot of time on my hands (or so my husband thought!). A hobby was needed and I stumbled upon a three-day cheese course at the Anglesey Food Technology Centre. The FTC is there to help and support food businesses with the testing or launching of new products. So, I had this wonderful opportunity and experience working alongside Julia (the font of all cheese knowledge), creating a range of different cheeses from Lancashire, soft cheeses to a Camembert style cheese. At the end of the course I was told that there was help and support available to set up a food business. That set the seed of an idea and now I run a small Artisan cheese company called Castell Gwyn (Welsh for White Castle) near the pretty Victorian town of Llandudno.
I have dabbled pat-time for the last couple of years making Camembert, which won silver for the best Welsh cheese at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich. That was just at the time I was starting up and I managed to gain a bit of press and P.R. before things really took off. I love cheesemaking and it’s exciting times at the moment, especially as I am judging again at this year’s International Cheese Awards.
I’ve always loved cheese. Everything from a good mature cheddar laced with salt crystals and a gooey baked brie. One of my favourite cheeses is Blacksticks Blue, hand-made by Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses and named after the tall chestnut trees that stood on Blacksticks Lane where the family first made cheese in Lancashire. For me, cheese always compliments the obligatory bottle of red wine on a weekend, especially when the wine comes from the charming Conwy Vineyard hidden away in Llandudno, just off the A55.
I don’t have much time for other hobbies, apart from cheese, but as a family we do follow the F1. We go to Silverstone every year and this has taken us to circuits such as Melbourne, Belgium and France. My husband and teenagers and big F1 fans, even the dog is called Hamilton.
What do you make and why?
I currently make artisan fresh soft cheeses, which are great in summer, but when we get into the autumn I would like to start making my (award-winning) Camembert! It is really a question of time and of course I would like to employ someone else in my dairy which would be a great help.
My newly launched range of Artisan soft cheeses are similar to Boursin with flavours: Welsh honey which is from a local Eco school in Llandudno where the children look after the hives, plain, cracked black pepper, fresh chives and pesto. I pick up the milk from a farm just half a mile away from the dairy and then I pasteurise it, hang it and then pot it. Overall, it’s a three-day process.
Tell us about your dairy
I now rent a dairy in Llandudno; my milk comes a stone’s throw from the dairy. I batch pasteurise it in my 100 litre vat, but I am looking to upscale and buy a 500 litre vat at the moment.
As you come into the dairy you realise that it’s really well equipped. A relative big space with two double sinks, three large stainless steel tables, fridges, a large potting table and of course my hard working vat. It’s in an old farm building so it’s really cool place in the summer months.
What are the Challenges?
Scale and time at the moment are my biggest challenges. My aim is to grow the business and build a reputable cheese brand in North Wales. I would also like to start selling on-line in the near future.
Furthering my cheese knowledge is also a challenge, but having a couple of good friends from North Wales who I met at the Food Technology Centre has helped create a good support network. Jo Smith is the owner of ‘The Little Welsh Cheese Company’ in Wrexham who recently appeared on Top of the Shop with a certain Tom Kerridge and Dr Carrie Rimes from Cosyn Cymru who is passionate about sheep’s milk products, putting into practice her extensive knowledge of cheese-making from her travels around the artisan Fromageries of rural France. We all attended a two-day cheese grading course together which helped secured our cheese bond.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheesemaker
My advice to anyone thinking of being a cheese maker is just do it. The process of turning milk into the most amazing library of cheeses is fabulous – there’s a cheese out there for everyone. Everyone I’ve ever met in the cheese world is really helpful and supportive too. Also ask lots of questions, speak to as many people as you can and research is key – it’s amazing what I have learned from just googling!
With artisan cheeses, I have had a lot of success and a few rare failures, but you learn from your mistakes, it is about time and trialling. However, when the time comes to sell your hand-crafted cheese and it makes people smile, then all the hard work for me is worth it.
Where can we find your cheese?
In good delis and farm shops in North Wales including Gwinllan Conwy Vinyard, which is fabulous. If you come to North Wales, you must try it. Sit, enjoy the cheese and wine (or wine tours) and of course the wonderful views of Snowdonia.
Favourite cheese making music?
Believe it or not I don’t play anything music in my dairy. I love the quietness which is probably why I find it therapeutic, but perhaps I need to try it.
Name: Jackie Whittaker
Business: Castell Gwyn Cheese
Great to chat with you Jackie and I love your branding, your cheese looks fabuously yummy! Wishing you great success in the future and snagging that 500 litre vat.
If you are, or know a small, artisan cheese maker who would like to chat to Ribblesdale Cheese, we would love to hear from you.