Slug Cheese and Peeled Almonds

The Dales were, for the first hour, swathes of green velvet, scrubby moorland peaks and granite mountain tops. It wasn’t quite the blistering wilds made famous by the Bronte sisters. Instead, it was tempered by a kind of human tenderness which transmuted the land from desolate to verdant. Before our eyes flashed farmsteads, drystone walls and chocolate box cottages; all lying in wait for the artist’s brush.

My sister and I took my silver Clio on a tour of the National Park. We watched as the fields, like pistachio ice-cream, flashed past, and the white woolly sheep, far in the distance, glistened like freshly peeled almonds. My sister didn’t say much. Although, she never does. Perhaps it was my driving that forced her to remain tight-lipped. Her hands clung white-knuckled onto the door handles as I steered the car through the labyrinth-like road network. I’m not a stranger to single track lanes, but I am to the rocky walls that stop you pulling the car onto the verge. Gone was the endless possibility of space. Gone was the Fenland ability to, given enough gumption, just pass each other with the edge of your tyre balancing on tarmac and wing-mirrors air-kissing as you pass.

The Dales were: stop, watch out for passing places, hairpin bend, sheep, gear up, gear down, blind summit. All whilst keeping your eye on the temperature gauge which was shrilly shrieking like a cartoon pressure valuve.

From within the confines and safety of our little silver ship though, we plotted our way to the Wensleydale Creamery and muttered with glee, over and over again, the website’s grand promise of ‘free cheese’. Quite difficult to say once; very difficult to say a few times over.

At the creamery, we paid our modest dues (about £4 for adults) and embarked on the ‘cheese tour’. My sister learned that back in the day the citizens of the Dale would make cheese out of the sludge collected from ditches. I learned they made cheese from slugs collected in ditches. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home. I would recommend, however, that our next trip incorporates a visit to an audiologist. I’m not sure what else I learned (having been pretty shocked with the idea of slug cheese, but also eager about the prospects of making my, ill-advised, own), but I think it included a history of the creamery, the owners, the cheese making process, and a look at the factory in action.

And then, as if walking out of the black and white world of Kansas and straight into Oz, we walked through sterile glass doors, sanitised our hands, and appeared in cheese-heaven. Hark! We hear cherubic choirs and harps twanging. Then a golden suffusion of light, the sort which could literally cure holes in the mortal soul, blared through open windows. And there we were. Arrived and surrounded by a room of ‘free cheese’. For we were indeed presented with a room full of delicious cheeses, which you could eat without labouring under a judge-full eye.

I juggled an armful of these lactose-treats to the checkout, equal in amount to the quantity I’d already consumed. I decided to take a fairly traditional approach to the selection process. After all, why buy anything that’s not Wensleydale at Wensleydale? Although they did also have a range of soft, blues and hard cheeses on offer. I took one waxed truckle of the unadulterated, Gromit saliva inducing, traditional Wensleydale, which was a creamy, slightly acidic, but altogether delightful affair. To which I added an oaked smoked version and a series of mixed cheeses. The latter are made by grating the cheese, adding the fruit and then, for want of a better term, re-squishing it back together again. I added  a ginger, a caramelised onion and a cranberry one to the collection.

Back at the car, the prospect of transporting my body weight in cheese home without refrigeration suddenly became an issue. So we nipped into the little town of Hawes and bought some ice for the cooler box and some fancy crackers for later. Hawes is one of those tourist towns that rake in the money from confectionery and souvenirs, but I liked it, so I won’t dwell too critically.

PS: I’ve checked with Google – it’s defo slugs, but you can also use snails (in fact snails are better).

The Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales

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