Cornish Yarg is a tasty, award-winning hard cheese wrapped in nettles and garlic from Lynher Dairies. Mandy Milano visited the farm to meet its Managing Director, Catherine Mead.
You can’t build a good business without a good product and you can’t make a good product without a great team,” explains the ebullient Catherine Mead, Managing Director of Lynher Dairies and and Guest Editor of Foodie this month.
She knows this for good reason. In 2014 its three cheeses – Garlic Yarg, Nettle Yarg and Kern – have each won Gold Awards in three different competitions: the Great Taste Awards; the International Cheese Awards; and the British Cheese Awards. The overall total is nine Golds in three prestigious competitions. Not bad.
Pengreep Farm near Truro is a family farm with a welcoming feel. Full of life and as chatty as ever, Catherine loves her product. “I do really love cheese, but I am also passionate about the sustainability and provenance of our food in general.”
And yes, it’s true Yarg was named after its creator Alan Gray – just backwards. The farm has been in the family for generations and the Meads have always farmed the way nature intended. “Our cows are 100% grass-fed, often on meadows that are hundreds of years old, and we buy-in milk from
12 additional local, carefully selected farms – we like to know all our cows and their farmers.”
Catherine explains how it works: “The dairy here processes over two million litres of milk, we hand pick nearly four tonnes of nettle and wild garlic leaves, and produce more than 200 tonnes of cheese a year. We employ 30 people from cheese makers and briners to nettlers and packers.”
Catherine’s role is to encourage and enthuse the team, build relationships with the dairy’s customers and be the face of the business.
“I believe encouraging the team here is really important; work should feel fair and equitable, with staff feeling valued. Our whole team understand how the business works – they know that if we can be more efficient then they feel the benefits too.”
It’s also about developing local talent. Catherine and the team have designed an apprenticeship in cheese-making with Duchy College. “Our first apprentice is now going to do a Foundation Degree but the added value for me was watching how the whole team wrapped their arms round him to encourage him to succeed,” she says, delighted with the response to the new project.
Catherine has a strong interest in food and food production. It has been a big part of her life as a former Chair of Cornwall Agri Food Council for several years. “The issue is about the tension between producing food in a more ecological sustainable way – which I strongly believe we should – and feeding nine billion people,” she says. “Good food with good provenance shouldn’t be just for the well-off. But then, as small producers we don’t have the economy of scale to compete with large, highly automated, food production companies.”
But running a business in Cornwall isn’t all work, work, work. Catherine likes to take time out and enjoy its beauty. “I love walking the coast path, visiting the beach and swimming in the sea; it is as much about people as place, and there is a fantastic feeling of community in Cornwall. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by wonderful family, friends and colleagues.”
As a result, she feels it’s important to put something back. Catherine is a serving Deputy Lieutenant of Cornwall and a huge supporter of Cornwall Community Foundation. She’s also a Trustee of Cornwall Food Foundation, the overarching charity behind Fifteen Cornwall and the work it does with young people going through difficult times.
“In 2012-13 I was honoured to be High Sheriff
of Cornwall. I spent most of my year understanding the work of the police, probation and prison services. It really heightened my awareness of the inequality in the world,” she says. “One highlight for me was visiting The Clink Restaurant at Belmont Prison. The brainchild of the prison chef, the restaurant, which is open to the public, provides work, qualifications and experience for selected prisoners and then helps them find employment on release. Clink Restaurants are now opening in many prisons across the UK. Food is a great equalizer, you get instant feedback – if four people go out for a meal and it’s fabulous, you can see it instantly from their mannerisms.”
Naturally also cheese features high on her list of peripheral activities. Catherine is Vice Chair of the Specialist Cheese Makers Association, with 250 members nationwide. “Travelling gives me my reflection and thinking time, which is generally when driving or sitting on trains. For someone who is as chatty and out there as me, it seems incompatible, but I do like my quiet time.”
Once a keen rider, Catherine had a few too many injuries to continue, so now goes on tour with her youngest son, a competitive show jumper. “I’m a great walker; I enjoy Portscatho to The Nare and back via The Hub for great food, or Portreath to Porthtowan on the north coast. I have three sons and we often go swimming in the sea after work – and I love yoga! Oh, and I still ski once a year.” Where does she find the time?
Lynher Dairies Cheese Co Ltd. Ponsanooth, Truro TR3 7JQ 01872 870 789 www.lynherdairies.co.uk