A visit to Godsells Cheese at Church Farm, Leonard Stanley

June 19, 2024

A visit to Godsells Cheese at Church Farm, Leonard Stanley

Church Farm sits neatly amongst the houses in the village of Leonard Stanley in Gloucestershire. The village lies 2½ miles west of Stroud on the south side of the Frome Valley and is unsurprisingly exquisitely idyllic. But it wasn’t the scenery I’d come for, as a committed cheese lover I was eager to find out more about the people behind the delicious Godsell Cheese brand.

Liz Godsell, a Master Cheese Maker, led me into the warm and cosy kitchen of the farmhouse, introduced me to her husband Bryan and made me a cup of tea. We then sat down and began to chat. Liz is warm and welcoming with a quiet air of knowledge and efficiency.

 

Me: Liz, how long have you been at Church Farm?

 

Liz: All my life. My Dad farmed here, and the farm has been farmed by a member of the family for the past two hundred years.

 

Me: Has it always been a dairy farm?

 

Liz: Well, when Dad originally started he had chickens, but he decided to switch to cows instead. Then he never stopped working.

 

Me: And you took over from your Dad, Liz. Have things changed a lot since his day?

Bryan: The machinery side is a lot more complicated now because it’s all computer-based and it’s big, expensive kit to mend and maintain. It’s not like the old days when you could hit it with a hammer if it broke down.

 

Liz: This means most farmers are probably mono farmers, as everything is so expensive you have to do everything in a reasonable quantity to make it cost-effective and ticking over nicely.

 

Me: I’m assuming you diversified with a milk machine and cheese production as a means to keep the farm ticking over too?

 

Liz: Yes, we’ve been making cheese for 23 years. Around the turn of the millennium, milk prices were very low. A dairy farm a day was closing down, the price wasn’t fair, and you couldn’t cover costs. Well, we still can’t cover our costs. Anyway, we had to diversify to survive.

 

Me: I love cheese, but it seems very unjust that you reached that point.

 

Liz: It is! Quite rightly we have Fairtrade coffee and tea. But it does feel like the need for Fairtrade for UK farmers is being overlooked.

 

Me: It’s hard to believe the country isn’t talking about it more. How did you decide that cheese was the way to add value to your milk?

 

Liz: There was an advert in the Farmers Weekly for a free course in Bridgwater for dairy farmers. It covered cheese making, ice cream, food hygiene etc. I applied and was successful.

 

Me: What happened after the course?

 

 

Liz: Well I knew cheese was going to be my focus as I’m a self-confessed ‘cheeseaholic’, and if you’re going to do something it might as well be something that you’re passionate about. We decided to focus on hard cheese as you have a much bigger window to sell it.

 

Me: What was your first cheese?

 

Liz: Our Cheddar. I read a survey that said you’d find cheddar in 70% of people’s fridges, so it seemed like a sensible start. It was edible! Then we tried a double Gloucester, which was also very edible. Then we tried a single Gloucester that has a PDO (protected designated origin) and to produce it you also have to have a few Gloucester cows.

 

Me: You have an impressive 11 varieties of cheese now, how did the others come about?

 

Liz: Quite often by mistake! Mistakes when making cheese are exciting because they can lead to new cheeses. In fact, most of our cheese varieties are mistakes. It’s interesting to push the boundaries of the cheese and find different flavours. Our Holy Smoked Single Gloucester came about when I was trying to make a Cheshire cheese and couldn’t quite get it right. I had a brainwave and asked a friend if they’d smoke it for us in their fish smoker and it was delicious, and I realised I was making a single Gloucester and our Holy Smoked variety was born.

 

Me: You have some excellent names for your cheese – Scary Mary and Three Virgins to name a few. How do you come up with them?

 

Liz: Well Scary Mary was because Helena thought it looked scary sat in the fridge. Three Virgins was because myself, Lorna and Helena dressed in all white to make the cheese and someone said it was like Three Virgins. We’ve found that the more imaginative names attract more attention and sell better.

 

Me: It’s interesting as farmers have to be marketing experts too – so many hats. You have a team of eight making the cheese, how did you find them?

 

Liz: Well actually Bryan has taken over the cheese production and he has a team, including one of our daughters Lucy, that we’ve established over a long period. We’ve had a few of our cheese makers for over twenty years. Everyone who works on the cheese has an interest in local food. When we start a new batch of cheese everyone tastes it. It’s a real team effort and we have a really good working atmosphere. That’s really important to us.

 

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A sleepy granddaughter then wanders into the kitchen and Liz and Bryan’s two daughters Lilly and Lucy follow saying hello and busily grabbing cups of tea and preparing lunch. Their daughter Lilly has taken over as farm manager and the aim is to keep the farm and cheese production going; I breathe a sigh of relief at this news. Godsells Cheese is first-rate, their varieties have excellent flavour, depth and body. And dare I say, after meeting the Godsells, a whole lot of heart. I’m a fan of all their cheeses but am particularly partial to their Holy Smoked and Leonard Stanley varieties.

 

Liz then shows me around their beautiful farm and gleaming facilities, she’s a wealth of fascinating information. We pause in the cheese room, it’s like a vault with the cheese stacked on shelves. The smell is pungent and deliciously cheesy. I feel in awe of it all – it’s a cornucopia of cheese.

 

Afterwards, I’m struck that, as ever, some of the busiest people you will meet are so incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. They’re also profoundly invested in what they do and the communities around them, it’s heartening. Cheese is one of life’s great and simple joys, but it’s farmers like the Godsells that make the magic happen. We mustn’t forget that.