IT was in 1987 that Gwynfor and Thelma Adams decided they had to do something different to survive on their family farm in the Cych Valley.
Now, 30 years on, Caws Cenarth is firmly established as one of the leading artisan cheese-makers in the country.
The business, set up in response to the introduction of quotes by the Milk Marketing Board back in the day, has gone from strength to strength.
Now in the capable hands of their son Carwyn, Caws Cenarth is a vital local employer, with 18 full-time staff and more at times of peak demand. There is a technical manager and a marketing manager.
It all seems a far cry to when the business took its first tentative steps.
Thelma said: “When I started out the idea was to employ one cheese-maker and an assistant while I would do the admin but things did not turn out like that. Within six months I was doing it myself and it was just me and my husband.
“We started out using 100 gallons, then up to 200 and 250. One gallon of milk produces one pound of cheese.
“We just used the milk we produced in the morning. We had to keep the MMB on board and still have an outlet for the rest of the milk we produced.
“I was responsible for everything and was very flexible and if someone turned up to buy cheese, if we were in we were open. There were no set times and I never refused to serve anyone.”
Caws Cenarth now produces 1,200lbs of cheese a day, with the capacity for more if needed.
Carwyn said: “We have to have the ability to scale up when the demand is there. We started planning this coming Christmas in January as it is such an important time of year for us. We’ve had orders already.
“We are still quite a small producer in the grand scale of things. The challenge is to keep growing the business but maintaining the quality. We now have a full-time technical manager – that’s the level of commitment you need. You can never sit back as the market place is changing so much and you need to understand the needs of every individual customer.
“Paperwork and red tape never ending but if you are prepared to put in all that work it opens up so many doors.”
Despite its success and the string of awards that have followed in its wake, Carwyn knows the business cannot afford to stand still.
“I am very fussy about the cheese as we continually look to improve on the consistency and flavour and one of the ways we do that is by talking to people and asking their opinions all the time and that’s the most important thing,” he said.
“Cheese-making is not an exact science and it’s difficult to get that consistency. We might have been doing it 30 years but you are still learning all the time.
“One of the advantages of having the shop on the farm site is that we can find out what people think about the products before going any further. It is great to get people’s thoughts.”
A measure of the success is that Caws Cenarth products are now available both nationally – it’s stocked by M&S - and internationally. It’s sold in Australia, the Far East, Japan Vietnam, UAE and Dubai in the high-end food malls.
The US market is on the radar and it’s now even being sold in small batches to the French.
“They love their cheese and perhaps we can give them something a bit different,” said Carwyn.
“Branding is vital to get the message out there about what we are trying to do and how we make the cheese and the story behind it – hence the launch of Thelma’s Original.
“It’s a natural product matured in the air and on the shelves. It’s the purest and most natural form of cheese you can find – a very simple basic food made up of milk, bacterial cultures and salt.
“This product is the real McCoy and we need people to know they are getting a premium product. It is authentic and original and we will leave the intensive farming and production methods to others.”
Carwyn, with a background in engineering, is still very much hands-on in the whole process.
“I am normally on site and always looking at ways we can improve the production process and make it easier. We have made lots of improvements but the basic process cannot change,” he said.
“We are always looking to innovate and in the past 12 months have produced a sheep’s milk cheese. It’s seasonal and milk comes from a farm near Crymych.”
It’s not all plain sailing though. While it is the location and quality of the product that makes it unique, it’s not easy getting lorries and vans down some of the narrowest country lanes in West Wales.
And what about the future of the family-run business? Carwyn’s son Lucas 14, and daughter Alisa, nine, could follow in dad’s footsteps.
“That would be great but I would not force them,” added Carwyn.
For now, here’s to the next 30 years.