Delving into the life of a cheese making family – The Traditional Cheese Dairy, East Sussex.
The Delves family took over the business in 2019 when it was based in Stonegate, and then in 2021 they moved The Traditional Cheese Dairy to Horam. Where it is now housed in its new home – a purpose built cheese dairy, adjacent to their herd of cross-bred Jersey and Friesian cows on the Delves’ dairy farm.
Outside farming, Andy also has a strong spiritual calling, he has been Pastor at the King’s Church, Heathfield and is a lay-reader at All Saints in Waldron. He had been taking a bit of time out for himself when his son Joe came up with the idea of merging their successful dairy business with the art of cheesemaking. As a result, he was enticed out of retirement to rise to the challenge of becoming a cheesemaker, and over a short intense period of time, he shadowed the previous owners to learn all he could about cheese making. Andy quickly adapted and assumed the new role of cheesemaker, perfecting the crafting of the five established cheeses.
“Our washed-rind, raw cows’ milk cheese is the most popular and the most tricky to make. We mature it for a minimum of eight weeks and during that time the rind is washed three times a week by the ‘Chief Washer’, my wife Lizzie. It’s always difficult to know how it will turn out and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it has a tendency to ‘lark about’. At its best it’s a superb cheese with a creamy texture which cuts beautifully, aromatic on the nose with a floral taste.”
Andy Delves explains the making of their most popular cheese, Burwash Rose.
Here are the Traditional Cheese Dairy’s other cheeses, available from Cuculo Cheese & Wine:
It’s a truly family affair from cheese maker Andy and his wife, through to their son Joe who manages the farms, with their son-in-law Ben who looks after the herds, and supported by their daughter.
“Taking on the dairy has given us the opportunity, as an extended family, to find local employment for all of those who wanted to continue working on the farm.
“We like to make really good cheese, it’s a dedication not a passion and we plan to keep on doing it. There is talk of developing a more mature cheddar style cheese. But right now, we struggle to keep up with demand. There is a renaissance in artisan cheese and it seems that artisan British cheese has never been so popular.”
Cuculo usually stock the full range from The Traditional Cheese Dairy, subject to availability. We are delighted to offer Burwash Rose as our Cheese of the Month for March.
My memories of Clavesana are of relaxed family lunches around a table beneath a verandah. Above all, the flask of wine in the centre mesmerised me. A metal basket, on a heavy, solid base with a pivotal joint, held the bottle in place. No-one passed the bottle. Instead, everyone filled their glass by reaching forward and turning the basket towards them.
My uncle occasionally took us with him to the Cantina Clavesana. I recall the bare rock faces, the Calanchi, near the Dolcetto vineyards. We used to purchase perhaps two huge demijohns of Dogliani, each the equivalent of six bottles. These he loaded into his Fiat 850. After that, when we arrived home, we would watch him unload these heavy beasts into his cellar. Then he would perform the careful process of decanting the Dogliani into his rustic, round bottles complete with raffia base. This ensured they fitted snugly into the revolving wine stand for our lovely lunches.
My aunt features strongly in my memories of Clavesana. She would serve her heavenly home-made pasta. She tipped the revolving flask quickly, so that I was allowed a little splash of Dogliani to ‘improve the sugo’ (a rich sauce). By the time I was twelve, I could also have a Dogliani splash in my fizzy water to turn it pale pink. Even now when I return to my hometown in Piedmont, I dunk the soft and doughy breadsticks (Rubatà) in my full glass of Dolcetto.
Now it’s your turn to make some memories of Clavesana…
I came to know this as my everyday wine, my comfort wine. The typical light tannins and drying texture remind me of the Calanchi. Meanwhile, the subtle bramble and forest fruit flavours transport me back to the Piemontese cuisine we so adored.
The Clavesana Dogliani is October 2021’s Wine of the Month. You can order it here, or explore other regional wines via the links below.
Meet Marco himself with this virtual tasting and presentation. Enjoy his wonderful Roero wines, as he and James introduce the region, grapes and the winery.
The tasting includes a full bottle of Marco’s Birbet, and a choice of sample sizes of three other Porello wines. Also, a Deli Pack of treats from our counters (let us know your dietary requirements), as well as tasting notes and an order form. The presentation usually takes around 60 minutes. We encourage questions and participation throughout.
Click here for to learn more and to book the Marco Porello Wine Tour. And click here for Marco’s website.
The evening of the same morning in which I bade adieu to my family at Olbia airport, I drove the up the steep road to Tenuta Matteu. The purpose was to present my monthly Wine Tour to the customers back home.
(Incidentally, part one of James’s letters from Italy can be found here.)
Were there ever a more picturesque vineyard setting? Rows of Vermentino vines, heavy in leaf and fruit, lead the eye to the bay 300 metres below. Small boats cross to and from La Maddalena. That is the island archipelago where Garibaldi spent his final years.
I had already seen photographs, before our family visit earlier in the week. However, they do not tell the whole story. The top vineyard occupies a natural saddle of land, which slopes away to either side. On the shoreward side, the rich colours of the sea nourish the eye.
But turning landward reveals a whole new drama. A great vista of distant mountain tops crashes across the horizon. Ridges, crests and peaks clamber over each other. In the summer haze of the evening, each fades ahead of the next.
The main track traverses the saddle. It leads from the old farmhouse, and the vines glide away to either side. Towering foursquare above the whole scene is the most dominant peak of all. So the ensemble effect – mountains there, the sea there, the vines in the middle, just so, and in the centre of it all, this vast massif – one feels to have inadvertently walked onto a film set.
Tenuta Matteu – Soliánu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
There’s a bit of jargon coming up – so before we go any further, let’s go through it.
Tenuta in this context is the Italian word for an estate. The word tenuta is the past participle of tenere – to have (in one’s hand) or to keep. Hence, a ‘holding’.
Soliànu is a Sardinian word which translates to Italian as soleggiata. In English that means sunny, or, more pointedly – though still lacking the evocation – sun-kissed. You can buy Soliànu here.
Vermentino is a semi-aromatic white grape grown mainly in Liguria (where it is also called Pigato), the Tuscan coast and Sardinia. It is also known in Provence as Rolle and in Piemonte as Favorita. Vermentino is considered one of Italy’s ‘noble’ white grapes.
Gallura – the historical name for Sardinia’s northerly region, introduced in part 1 of this trundle around the island.
Ledda and Matteu are the names of estates. Ledda owns Matteu.
DOCG – Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita. The top tier of Italy’s appellation system.
Cuculo regulars might recognise the name in connection with Tenuta Ledda. Andrea Ledda owns Tenuta Matteu. Matteu is planted completely to Vermentino, while the entirety of that production in turn makes all of “Soliànu”. In simple terms, Matteu (vineyard) is Soliànu (wine), and vice versa.
Soliànu is a sumptuous Vermentino di Gallura DOCG Riserva. You can buy it here.
Our guide at Tenuta Matteu was Andrea Pericu, manager of the various estates owned by Ledda. With his gently passionate manner, Andrea showed us the important features of the Tenuta.
Tenuta Matteu – in Andrea’s words
In considering Sardinian Vermentino, one thinks of three key influences. That is to say, proximity to the sea, the granite rock, and the maquis underbrush. This is the only vineyard in all of Sardinia which has all three of those together. It also benefits from being at 300m in altitude, and there’s a constant breeze coming over the pass.
Because the vineyard has a mix of aspects, altitudes and inclinations, picking needs several passes. A team of 40 pick the ripe parcels first thing in the morning, and the juice is vinified. The following morning, they go out again and choose the parcel which is ripe that day. And so on.It’s a skilled and time-consuming process, and it’s the way we achieve the perfect balance in the wine.
There is no oak used in Soliànu, only stainless steel.
Andrea Pericu, Tenuta Ledda
Matteu & Ledda – the wines
Then, in the shade away from the hot afternoon sun, we sat on the terrace of the tasting room. With Andrea we tasted through most of the wines currently in production across all three Ledda vineyards.
In terms of the Soliànu (from that very vineyard), we tried several vintages. Note that the only vintage available is the latest, 2020. Also, that just now, this is the only Ledda wine available in the UK. I have a pending order for some of the others – you can learn more in the next instalment.
The 2016 was the first vintage from the vineyard. Medium lemon with green flecks. Evolving fruit, floral, mineral and balsamic aromas. A wonderful balance between acidity and sugars; alcohol in evidence; richly textured – oily, even, like a great Burgundy – yet refreshing.
The 2017 Andrea describes as their perfect expression of Vermentino. I thought hazelnut on the nose but my companions both raised an eyebrow. Fantasic balance again – there was a delicacy and herbal lift lacking in the vintages to either side. A pity it has all gone.
The 2020 was excellent. A little young in the bottle (all these wines are made to age), and lacking the perfect poise that set 2017 apart. But still, such presence in the glass. The herb notes – maquis, dried grass, eucalyptus – balance the citrus and tropical fruits beautifully. This is the current vintage available to buy at Cuculo.
The pricing is as follows:
75cl bottle £25.45
6 bottles £140 (£23.33 per bottle)
12 bottles £270 (£22.50 per bottle)
Vermentino is a semi-aromatic grape variety. Among other qualities, that means it is fairly high in sugars. These can build very quickly in the fruit near harvest, so it can easily become a sweet wine.
However, this is not usually what the winemaker wants. Instead, they want to show off the grape’s delightful floral (orange blossom, rose, acacia) and fruit (notably citrus and tropical). Not to mention the steely, more ‘mineral’ notes. Some sugar in the wine is desirable – more than many white wines – but that acidity is key.
So the winemaker works to keep a good level of acidity in the grapes. Altitude helps, as do the cooling sea breezes. The Gallurese granite lends that mineral quality. Picking early in the morning and at ideal ripeness is also important.
Vermentino typically has:
23.7 °Brix of must sugars (i.e. before fermentation)
Head over to our online shop. As of JUST NOW you can purchase the wonderful Isle of Mull cheddar, made by the Sgriob-Ruadh Farm. It’s the last remaining dairy on the Hebridean Islands, and the cheese is just delicious.
If you’re not eating it yet, you should be! After all, the dairy have maintained their production throughout the pandemic. So they’re full to the gunwhales.
Isle of Mull Cheddar is available at Cuculo Cheese and Wine.
Sardinia, part 1. Ancient, wild Sardinia is the jewel in the crown of the Mediterranean. The most northerly part of the island – the bit which almost touches Corsica – has kept its ancient name, Gallura. This is an area composed entirely of rose-gold granite rock. So in the evening, rich pink infuses the honeyed light of the lowering sun, and the maquis releases its heady perfume of herb and brush and pine.
The sea rushes at its endless process of transforming the rocks into the fine sand of beaches, or destroying them altogether to create inlets. Some of the beaches are kilometres long, backed by regal forests of Maritime Pines. Their broad tops shine emerald against the azure sky, and provide cool and shade for shuffling tortoises.
It’s a strange time. Covid ravages the globe, so overseas visitors are very few. Yet Italians are holidaying here in large numbers. Indoors has everybody wearing a mask, whereas, on the streets and beaches, the world goes on in its usual way.
As for me, I find myself enjoying an extended stay here, to the amusement of many. I am here with a purpose, but I can see how everyone else thinks I’ve just taken the bold move of extending my family holiday. A bit of me time, right? I see those Mums and Dads to whom I have tried to explain it, calculating how they can pull off the same trick.
I’ve dropped my family at Olbia airport – what now?
A number of things. Since my last visit eighteen months ago, I’ve become an Italian national and I need to collect my carta d’identità in Valtournenche. But that’s just life’s admin. Of more interest, I have some winery visits to make – here and on the mainland. There are new hotels to visit, and old ones with whom I want to renew acquaintance. There are new walking and cycling routes to measure and write up.
I can’t lie – although I miss my family already, it’s raining back in England and I’m looking forward to this.
Thank you for reading Sardinia part 1 – my first letter from Italy.
Thank you for reading Sardinia part 1 – my first letter from Italy.
You can find a Piedmont introduction at our latest web page. The wines of Piedmont, including Barolo, Barbera, Dogliani, Roero Arneis and Gavi are available to buy at Cuculo Cheese & Wine. That is both instore and online.
We also add to the website all the time. Check back for updates and additions.
Aosta Valley wine is famous with the region’s holidaymakers. Because very little area is available for vine planting, production is tiny, with locals and tourists polishing off most of it. In wine terms, Aosta Valley – compared to, say, Tuscany or Sicily – is little known. However, for reasons we explain here, it is very high quality. Famous Aosta Valley producers include Les Crêtes and Cave Mont Blanc.
Luckily, a small amount of Valdostano wine reaches our shores. You can find the Cuculo selection here.
Heart of the Italian Alps – enjoy Aosta Valley wine at the winery!
You can also visit Aosta Valley with Cuculo, as part of our beautiful Heart of the Italian Alps wine itinerary. After the disruption of 2020/21, we will be relaunching Heart of the Italian Alps ready to receive travellers in 2022. Heart of the Italian Alps is operated by our sister company, MacNay Travel & Wine.
The trip uses high quality, diverse accommodation between elegant, bustling Aosta and chic Courmayeur. Enjoy wine tastings and a range of unforgettable mountain experiences.
You can book the itinerary purely as a wine trip, but it is also available as an eight day, exhilerating, self-guided walking trip (difficulty: ‘hard’). We provide detailed directions and maps, make all bookings, and move your bags ahead of you.
All bookings include a visit to mainland Europe’s highest white wine vineyards at Morgex (pictured).
In autumn 2021 Cuculo will publish our dates for accompanied small group bookings. You can also book the trip as an unaccompanied itinerary. In all cases, we provide detailed literature and take care of the logistics (inluding hotels and winery visits) for you.
For more information, to book a trip, or to buy the wines, you can contact us by email, phone or in-store. We look forward to welcoming you to the Aosta Valley very soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the flavour of this magical region through its wines and cheeses.