12 Nov 2023
The Blaenafon Cheddar Company – Producer of the Month
4 Mar 2020
The Blaenafon Cheddar Company is a small family-run business based in the World Heritage town of Blaenafon, South Wales.
Their cheddar has won many accolades including awards at the International Cheese Awards and the British Cheese Awards.
Who is behind Blaenafon?
Blaenafon Cheddar Company was established in 2006 and is run by Susan and Gerry Woodhouse and their daughter Charlotte. Between them, they manage cheese manufacture, deliveries, logistics, publicity, communications and much more.
A brief history
Blaenafon (meaning ‘front of the river’) is a town that lies at the source of the Afon Lwyd and it has a rich industrial past. It was once the site of a booming iron and coal works which boosted the population to over 20,000 people. The coal and iron works no longer function in their original capacity but parts of the town and surrounding country form the Blaenafon Industrial Landscape, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The former coal mines are now known as Big Pit National Mining Museum where visitors can experience what life might have been like for a coal miner.
What makes Blaenafon cheese unique?
It is at Big Pit that Blaenafon’s most famous variety, Pwll Mawr (‘Big Pit’) cheddar, is aged for two weeks, 300ft below ground at the bottom of a coal mine shaft. Once every two weeks, a new batch of cheeses is taken down to the maturing site and the aged Cheddar is brought back up to the surface by the miners at Big Pit.
Susan came up with the idea of maturing cheese underground during her time working for another cheese producer, many years ago. Once she had decided to set up her own company, she was in the fortuitous position of being able to approach the mine manager at Big Pit, who welcomed the prospect, and go on to develop her idea into a reality.
All of their cheeses are hand-produced by the family at their shop on Broad Street, Blaenafon. The cheeses are free from artificial preservatives and colourings and are all suitable for vegetarians. They are coated in coloured wax which preserves them for up to 5 months.
Blaenafon Cheddar Company make a range of Cheddar cheeses and a Caerphilly cheese. Many of the Cheddars are flavoured with local produce such as whisky from Penderyn distillery at the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, mustard, leek and Brains’ Reverend James Ale made in Cardiff. Their mature cheddar Pwll Mawr can also be purchased in its smoked variety.
Welsh Food and Drink
Susan has said that tourism is an important part of their business and this is understandable when taking into consideration the monumental changes which have taken place in towns at the heart of the mine decommissions in the relatively recent past. As well as producing their cheeses for tourists to take away with them, they champion local businesses and sell a selection of welsh produce and local welsh ales, whisky and other speciality alcohols.
Blaenafon strive to produce excellent quality cheese and Susan’s perspective is certainly a positive one!
“I think the boom in interest in the Welsh food and drink industry at the moment is because everything is made with a cwtch and with a hwyl and the passion. We’re really proud of that and I think we all aim to achieve to make everything best first time and I think the customers really understand that.”
It’s evident that a love of their town and the Welsh way of life is at the heart of what drives this business. Each product is dedicated to a Blaenafon’s significant history, from the images displayed on the labels to the names of the cheeses and how they acquire their unique flavour.