THE BLOG

Cheese, Kate Humble and Lambing: My Weekend in Monmouthshire

09/04/2013 17:37 BST | Updated 08/06/2013 10:12 BST

The business began as a hobby and has now flourished into a cottage industry involving the whole Ryder family. Harry suffered a severe stroke and was encouraged to find a hobby that would help with his rehabilitation. He's been making Wye Valley Cheese for the past six years and his wife Sue sells wheels of their cow and sheep milk cheese at local farmers markets. The well-stocked deli Flavours Delicatessen on Monmouth High Street stocks it too. Harry is the only cheese-maker in Monmouthshire and his delicious crumbly cheese is much sought after, not least because it tastes divine and he keeps his prices low, despite the hard work that goes into making each wheel. Milk for their cow's cheese comes from a local farm so they're supporting a very tight-knit farming community. Harry makes cheese twice a week and sadly for me he has the weekend off, however, work on Lower Gocket Farm never stops for Farmer Joe, Harry's son.

2013-04-08-IMG_5865.jpg

Joe hand-milks the Ewes for their Ewe's Milk Cheese and he's doing this right in the middle of the lambing season. The weather has been particularly bad and there are many Ewes and poorly lambs in the barn needing additional care. That, on top of his other farm jobs makes Joe a very busy farmer.

2013-04-08-IMG_5837.jpg

If you've ever milked a Ewe, which I hadn't, it's not as easy as it looks and I failed miserably, there's definitely a knack to it and Joe milks his Ewes when their making the cheese twice a day.

Humble By Nature is a 100-acre working farm, a short drive from the Ryder farm. Until recently it was owned by the local council, tenanted to young farming families and when they decided to sell it off in lots, Kate Humble and her husband, Ludo, persuaded the local authority to let them take it on. It remains tenanted but is run as a business that supports other rural businesses and is home to husband and wife team Tim and Sarah Stephens. As well as breeding Welsh Mountain sheep and Hereford cattle, Tim takes one of the hedge-laying courses run here. You can try your hand at something totally new or improve your rural skills. Courses on offer range from food and cookery, craft and skills, working with animals and rural skills. On the day I visit the Waddingtons - Graham and his wife Ruth - are putting together their 'Home Charcutier: Inspired by Britain', course. They run Native Breeds a small artisan charcuterie in Gloucestershire. Graham is one of the few specialists in Britain who are expert in the curing, fermenting and air-drying of meat, He co-founded the award-winning Trealy Farm Charcuterie with James Swift. Having tasted most of what they intended to share with the class (sorry Ruth) I'm signing up for the Home Charcutier: Inspired by Southern Europe course in June and at £95 that's a snip - even if you include your transport and accommodation charge. You can stay in the Piggery, the onsite 2-bedroomed cottage, attached to the main farmhouse with views out over the farm fields. It's been given a marvellous makeover and you're able to collect your own eggs each morning for breakfast. Short lets of three days or a week are on offer and if it's unavailable there's plenty of B&Bs and hotels nearby although because of its location, and if you've chosen not to drive, I'd definitely employ the services of a local taxi company.

Tim is sorting out sheep when we meet him and his wife Sarah is mucking out, who said farm life was glamorous? However, they do get to be present when these amazing creatures are born.

2013-04-08-IMG_5892.jpg

Kate gives us a tour of the farm with the two puppies she's been writing about in her Saturday Telegraph column and they really are fluffy balls of fun.

2013-04-08-IMG_5896.jpg

2013-04-08-IMG_5901.jpg

Get your booking in quick, Kate's publishing Humble By Nature about her move from the City to her Farm and I'm not sure the well-priced courses, or this lovely self-catering accommodation, will remain quiet for too long.

I leave wanting to take home a herd of Dorset sheep and all the lambs who are victims of the weather and death. I even find myself searching for homes in the area - best I get myself on that smallholding course first.

Thanks to the Ryder Family - Joe, Emily, Sue and Harry - for their patience, for letting me spend the day on their farm during a particularly busy period and also to Kate Humble, Tim and his wife Sarah.