Here at The Cheese Merchant, we love to shine a light on people and producers doing great things.
Located in the gorgeous Hampshire countryside, we’re lucky enough to be in the prime spot to receive lots of visitors. At the beginning of March, we hosted Rachel and Fraser from Norton and Yarrow and listened excitedly to their 2022 plans.
If you’ve not heard of Norton and Yarrow, they started life as just a two-man husband and wife band. They’re based at the Earth Trust Farm near Shillingford in South Oxfordshire and make award winning artisan goats' cheese from their adorable from Anglo Nubian (with a few splashes of British Toggenburg!) herd.
Back in 2014, Fraser was a Project Manager and Rachel was an English Teacher, holidaying in Sicily and not overly enthusiastic about returning to the everyday. They needed a new challenge and after picking up an old copy of Woman and Home magazine left behind in the villa, they were completely inspired by an article about a goats' cheese maker. Before the plane home had landed, they had the bare bones of a new business plan.
Fast forward to today, they make two delicious cheeses. Sinodun Hill, a creamy goats cheese pyramid whose refreshing and more-ish flavour has managed to convert many a goats’ cheese refuser, and Brightwell Ash, a ashed goats cheese with a silky texture and sumptuous, complex flavour.
We had some burning questions we wanted to ask and share with our food service and retail audience, to inspire you to give goat a go!
Thank you so much for taking the time to swing by! We’re so happy to have you!
I suppose we should start with the most important question – do all the goats have names?
They certainly do! All the goats born in a particular year have a name starting with the same letter of the alphabet, so in 2016 it was A (Anastasia, Audrey…), 2017 was B (Biscuit, Bramble…), and in 2022 we have reach G. We try to give the kids names that relate to their mothers, so Bramble’s daughter in 2019 was named Damson, for example. We end up naming a lot of kids each year though and some of the names get a bit bizarre – we have a (female) goat called Collin and one another called Diesel, for example! Rachel knows all the milkers by name: learning names was a skill she picked up as a teacher.
Norton and Yarrow is such a unique name, where did it come from?
That’s just our surnames – Fraser is Norton and Rachel is Yarrow. At the point we started the business, we didn’t actually know where we would end up making the cheese so thought it was safest to stick with our names which we could take anywhere! We got married in 2015 but have both kept our names.
Tell us what it was like producing your first ever cheese? It must have been so satisfying!
Well it was third time lucky! We started out just making at home in our kitchen. The first ever cheese make got ambushed by our kitten, who we found with his head under the tea towel covering the bowl, lapping away at our precious make as it was meant to be acidifying. The second time, we calculated the rennet dose wrongly and it didn’t set. So it felt like a minor miracle when the third attempt resulted in something which vaguely resembled a cheese. However it was pretty awful – bland and rubbery – so it was clear that we had a lot of work ahead of us to make something we could feel proud of. It was satisfying experimenting with different recipes though and gradually refining it through hundreds of repetitions and gradual tweaks, until we were finally happy with it.
You’re obviously doing something right. Since launching in March 2016, Sinodun Hill was awarded 'Best New Cheese' at the Artisan Cheese Awards in April 2017, as well as Gold Medals in 2017 and 2018, and at the World Cheese Awards won a Silver in 2017 and Gold in 2018.
What do you love about cheese making and what’s next for you this year?
It’s very satisfying to hand make a product from top quality raw materials and to be able to know it is one of the best cheeses of its kind in the country, if not the world. It’s a real mixture of art and science and you have to be both very precise and very good at problem solving as a cheesemaker. We have had compliments on our cheese from top French cheesemongers and also regular members of the public (including people who have always thought they didn’t like goats’ cheese), and it is very gratifying to hear those.
We had a very hectic year last year building an extension to our very petite cheese making rooms on the farm, so this year we are looking forward to be able to enjoy making cheese in them. We are also taking on a new barn and pasture so we can expand our herd to help us meet demand this year, and working on developing a herbal ley specifically designed for goats. Meanwhile Rachel is aiming to complete her masters is Sustainable Agriculture so there is never a dull moment!
You’ve also welcomed two new kids into the herd (the human, not the furry kind!) – you’re real life superheros! What advice would you give to others trying to do it all?
Probably to accept you can’t do it all! We did literally everything ourselves for the first couple of years we were cheesemakers but working long hours 7 days a week is really not sustainable, especially when children come along, and we realised we had to involve other people to be able to grow the business and actually enjoy it too. You make better decisions if you can make time to have days off and the odd holiday.
Your story on your website gives us some great history. Safe to say farming is certainly in the family – do the little ones like the goats? Long may it continue?
They do love the goats yes, and can sometimes even be persuaded to help with feeding and sweeping up. Gabriel (our eldest) spent a lot of time in a backpack when he was a baby, while Rachel fed and tended the goats, and he could do a full range of very realistic goat noises before he could talk. I hope they grow up understanding farming and where their food comes from, but who knows what they’ll end up doing for a living!
Want to try some Norton and Yarrow Cheese? Get in touch!