Holden Farm Dairy is located in West Wales near the Ceredigion coast at Bwlchwernen Fawr. The cheesemaking business is owned and operated by Patrick Holden along with his wife Becky, Patrick’s son Sam and his wife Rachel. Having started out as an organic commune in 1973, Bwlchwernen is the oldest, continuously registered organic farm in Wales. Holden was a member of the commune, and after it was dissolved, he stayed on as a tenant on the land, eventually purchasing the property. Patrick remained committed to the organic movement in the UK, eventually becoming the Director of the Soil Association. Today he runs a charity called the Sustainable Food Trust.
In 2005, Holden convinced Sam and Rachel to try making cheese on the farm. Simon Jones, the well-respected cheesemaker at Lincolnshire Poacher, taught the Holden family how to make cheese using Swiss techniques he learned from another famous local cheesemaker, the late Dougal Campbell. Inspired by Dougal’s techniques, Bwlchwernen was producing their own cheese in 2007.
Although Hafod is a cheese with traditional Welsh roots, prior to the Holden family taking over, the recipe had undergone various changes, introducing some Swiss influences. However, the Holdens decided to take Hafod back to its Welsh roots and changed the recipe to reflect how cheddars were produced in their community fifty years ago. This change brings new meaning to its name, since Hafod, in Welsh means “a summer place, or pasture,” a perfect reflection of the place next to the river Aeron where Bwlchwernen is located.
Hafod is made daily in small quantities of milk sourced from the farm’s herd of Ayrshire cows. The milk is pumped directly from the milking parlor to the wood-sided Dutch vat in the creamery which is where the milk is warmed and a small amount of starter added, beginning a slow ripening and coagulation process. This process also allows the Holdens to use lower temperatures in their cheese making, resulting in a finished cheese with a springy texture and brown butter flavor. Like many traditional cheddars, young cheeses are wrapped in cloth and covered with a thin layer of lard to protect them during aging.
Robust, rich and flavorful with notes of grass, Havod owes its butteriness to Ayrshire milk, which is high in fat and protein. Texture is firm and deeply golden in hue.
Hafod pairs well with a wide range of beers; Kernel Brewery's Pale Ale is a particular favorite of the producers. It also pairs nicely with oaked sauvignon blanc and light fruit forward red wines such as pinot noir or beaujolais. It is a great table cheese when paired with fresh apples or pears, and dates. In cooking, it can be grated over pastas as a refreshing twist, and it is excellent in fondue.