A visit to Norton & Yarrow, makers of Sinodun Hill & Brightwell Ash
Barbury Hill’s Founder, Dan, has just returned from a visit to Norton & Yarrow's cheesemaking cabins, dairy and barns located at The Earth Trust Farm in South Oxfordshire. In between sampling and tasting, Dan found out more about this young cheesemaking company and their delicious award-winning goats’ cheese. Read on to find out what makes Norton & Yarrow cheese worthy of its recent Super Gold at the 2022 World Cheese Awards.
A Picturesque Setting
“Rachel is just wrapping cheese…she’ll be out in a moment” was the response after I knocked on Norton & Yarrow’s door on a sunny November morning. Waiting outside for a few minutes gave me time to soak up the surroundings in this glorious rural spot. Red Kites circled over rolling wildflower meadows. I spotted the Wittenham Clumps, two wooded chalk hills that are home to the oldest beech trees atop a hill anywhere in England. The old name for the clumps is ‘Sinodun Hill’ - also the name given to Norton & Yarrow’s exquisite pyramid shaped goats’ cheese.
I pondered. How had this historic location inspired - in namesake at least - this relatively new producer that’s already proudly featured in leading independent cheesemongers in London and around the UK. As I thought my mind drifted and I considered Sinodun Hill’s delicate mousse-like texture with a fresh, citrus flavour…”Would you like to tour the cheesemaking facility first and then visit the goats?”. Rachel had appeared, fresh from wrapping cheese, and I didn’t need to be asked twice!
The Story behind the Super Gold Award-winning Cheese
Fraser Norton and Rachel Yarrow’s story is both fascinating and inspiring. Rachel was a teacher and Fraser worked in project management. In 2014, whilst on holiday in Sicily they read a magazine article about a goats’ cheesemaker. Feeling completely inspired, they started making cheese at home and in 2016 they sold their first goats’ cheese at a small market in Oxfordshire. Fast forward six years and Sinodun Hill was through to the final 16 of the World Cheese Awards in Cardiff where it not only won a Super Gold but was selected by a top judge as her choice for champion in the final 16 cheeses. This out of over 4,400 entries!
The Cheesemaking Process
Back to the tour. The cheesemaking facility is snug but well proportioned and well managed. Rachel took us to the start of the process where fresh goats’ milk is piped into the building and the curds are ladled into moulds. This initial make takes four days and the ripening process takes 21 days - a carefully monitored waiting game. Things do not move quickly here - you can’t rush perfection. This is traditional cheesemaking based around gentle and slow cheesemaking recipes where the milk itself forms the flavour and texture of the cheese.
And it’s not just the flavour of this cheese that’s special. The rind of Sinodun Hill is fascinating. Ivory in colour the rind is formed by yeast which creates the distinctive fingerprint-like ridges on the exterior of the cheese. And just like fingerprints, the pattern is different on every cheese!
We visited the milking parlour and then onto the goats. A surprisingly peaceful yet playful herd were nibbling on hay that comes from the meadows surrounding the farm. I asked about names and was surprised to hear that Rachel can name all 161 of them individually! The herd is made up of Anglo Nubian goats with British Toggenburgs too. Anglo Nubians are considered as 'the Jersey cow of the goat world' due to the high fat content of their milk, which makes it particularly creamy.
We’re extremely proud to feature Sinodun Hill in our Barbury Boxes and the feedback from customers and recipients has been positively glowing for this comfortingly rich and creamy cheese with its perfect balance of citrus and nutty notes. From happy goats to happy customers, Norton & Yarrow have created something really quite special in their little corner of Oxfordshire.
You’ll find Sinodun Hill in our Barbury Boxes, perfectly complemented by other award-winning British cheeses.
by Dan, Barbury Hill Founder
Dan founded Barbury Hill and he is the man behind our mission to shine a light on the best of British food and drink. He loves English wine, cider and small batch cheese. And every producer on Barbury Hill.