Blaenafon may be famous for attractions such as Big Pit, but the real big cheeses of the World Heritage Site are Susan Fiander-Woodhouse and her husband Gerry Woodhouse. As well as priding themselves in their work for tourism in the area, the couple are responsible for some of the best cheese to hit South Wales since the Steps tour came to Cardiff back in 1999.
Owners of the Blaenafon Cheddar Company, the pair produce 15 distinctive cheddars and four varieties of goat’s cheese made with some of the best local produce the country has to offer.
“Our cheeses are all handmade using the most amazing ingredients found in Wales,” explained Sue. “The base cheddar is made for us by South Caernarfon Creameries and I source all my ingredients from all over Wales.” From Penderyn Whisky to Welsh Lady preserves and from Black Mountain Liqueur to Brains beer, they all go into their cheeses, but the ingredient that stays the same with every batch is their passion.
The tender loving care and patriotism aren’t the only things making their cheese unique however. Adding even more Welsh heritage into the mix, their Pwll Mawr cheddar is matured at the bottom of Big Pit’s mineshaft. “The idea of maturing the cheese in Big Pit was created a while before we started the business,” said Sue. Back then she was working as a Development Chef for a company producing a large range of cheeses and Gerry was an engineer. “I had the idea many years before,” she said, “but my boss thought it was insane!”
The fact that the mine is 300ft deep makes it the perfect environment for maturing cheese however, as the constant temperature of 10.5°C results in cheesey perfection. Wrapped in its slick black wax, resembling a lump of coal found in the mine, Pwll Mawr has won many awards including bronze at the prestigious British Cheese Awards back in 2008.
As well as being recognised for their cheeses, the couple have also received awards for their work in tourism for their local comminity and Sue uses their cheese to aid that. “Because we are so heavily into tourism, I wanted the names to give intrigue and invite people to our town through their tastes,” she said.
Anadl y Ddraig, or Dragon’s Breath, a spicy chilli cheddar balanced with the creaminess of Brains SA and wrapped in a fiery red wax, pays homage to the land of the dragon. “The Dragon’s Breath is so named because of the first iron works, perched on the hillside of the Blorenge, overlooking Abergavenny,” explained Sue. Rising from the hills, a stream of silky smoke resembled a dragon’s fierce breath and just as the iron works breath life into the community, the chillies breathe life into the cheese.
Pwll Ddu, or Black Pool, made using The Rev James ale, along with mustard and leek give a traditional and wholesome taste of Wales. “I try out new beers and ciders from time to time,” she said, “but Rev and SA are long established products and they just ooze nostalgia.”
The hard work, passion and traditional Welsh ingredients and products that the couple lovingly put into each their cheeses, as well as their work for tourism, is truly commendable and they are true Welsh culinary heroes.