Ex-rugby ref Nigel Owens has officiated a World Cup final, presented TV shows and launched a farming operation. He’s a member of the Gorsedd of Bards and was once named Gay Sports Personality of the Decade. Now the Wrexham AFC fan has added another string to his bow.

South Caernarfon Creameries (SCC), a farmer-owned creamery near Pwllheli, Gwynedd, has awarded him the honorary title of “Chief Cheese Officer”. With this accolade came the duty of launching a new SCC competition – to win a year’s supply of “cave-aged” cheese for a family.

To find out more about the cheese, he toured SCC's processing plant before donning a hard hat to venture into the Llanfair slate caverns near Harlech in Eryri (Snowdonia). It’s here, deep underground, that the cooperative matures its Dragon premium cheeses.

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The former slate mine, which operated in the 19th and early 20th century, has nine chambers. In one, hundreds of wooden boxes are stacked on shelves so that the cheddar blocks inside can slowly mature.

The idea was borrowed from the French tradition of maturing cheeses in caves. SCC previously stored its cheeses at Llechwedd slate mine, Blaenau Ffestiniog, but stocks were shifted two years ago as Llanfair was closer and offered easier access.

Nigel said: “It was wonderful to see first-hand how the Dragon handcrafted cheeses are made and then placed underground in slate cheese caverns. It really has a remarkable taste after being underground for months on end. My favourite is Cavern Onyx as I love Penderyn whisky – and this one is infused with it!”

Since retiring as a rugby referee in December 2020, Nigel can be found on his farm near Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire, with his herd of Hereford cows. Before his referee career, he worked as a farmhand and he is now an avid supporter of the agricultural industry.

Farmer Siôn Hughes shows Nigel around his farm near Criccieth
Farmer Siôn Hughes shows Nigel around his farm near Criccieth

During his trip to Gwynedd, Nigel also visited a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Criccieth who supplies milk to SCC. Siôn Hughes described how the cooperative provides 180 jobs in the area and is an integral part of the local community.

Its milk is collected seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year, by SCC’s own fleet of tankers. Bi-products of the cheese-making process are collected and turned into animal feed to ensure nothing is wasted.

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Siôn said: “160 farms supply the creamery and our milk is used for all the Dragon ranges. It is great for us as it is a sustainable business plan with low food miles. All the milk used comes from Wales with farms in South Wales also supplying milk.”

SCC produces four different Dragon handcrafted cheeses – Cavern Platinum, a vintage cheddar; Cavern Ruby, a Welsh Red Leicester; Cavern Emerald, a cheddar blended with leek; and Cavern Onyx, cheddar infused with Penderyn whisky. “We are proud of what we produce here,” said Mark Edwards, SCC’s head of operations.

Nigel gets to see how the company’s premium range is made
Nigel gets to see how the company’s premium range is made

In the competition, an eyewatering 250 packs of cheese from SCC’s Dragon handcrafted range can be won. Together they weigh in at 50kg: the winner may need a bigger fridge.

To enter, people just need to follow SCC’s social channels and tag a fellow cheese lover in the company’s competition post. For those not on social media, or who just want an extra chance to win, they can also subscribe to SCC’s e-newsletter here.

More entries can be made by buying products from SCC’s online store (during the competition period). Each purchase will provide 10 extra entries. More competition details are here.

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