“I couldn’t believe it,” said Wales-based entrepreneur Katie Head upon discovering she’d won the Best Welsh Cheese award at the British Cheese Awards. The 55-year-old, who is originally from Oxfordshire but now lives in Llandovery, won the coveted prize for her Gafr Las (Blue Goat) cheese.

Former paleoecologist Katie explained: "I went to the British Cheese Awards website and I started checking, and I was going through PDF results. I saw that I'd won a class, but then I went to the other PDF with the champion winners. I found my name there and couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe I was actually in that list."

Katie’s surprise stemmed from the fact that her company, Bryngaer Goats – which she set up by herself – only started nine months ago, even though her passion for making cheese began when she was a teenager.

READ MORE: I'm a nutritionist and this is the one ingredient I'd never have in a full English breakfast

READ MORE: I tried the new restaurant where you pay £25 and stuff your face with every sort of food imaginable

“Since I was about 20, I'd always had this dream of having a few goats, and I've always loved making things from scratch,” she said. “I mean, even when I was doing my PhD at Belfast, I was starting to teach myself how to make cheese. I just love making stuff, so I thought, right, I've got a chance now – I'm going to leave the university and set it up. We took the whole family and came to a smallholding in Wales.

“It all really started when I picked up this Specialist Cheesemaker's book when I was on holiday one day. I started going through and there were lots of cheeses made in Yorkshire and places like that, and they'd all done it from their own farms. I thought, that's just amazing – the way they've built up these little industries. I just thought, one day I'll do that. I want to do that and get my goats!”

Katie's Gafr Las cheese
Katie's Gafr Las cheese

Speaking of the process of making the cheese, she added: “At the moment, because I set up the dairy myself, I go to the food centre, which is about an hour away from me. There's a lot of people there who can help you technically.

“Then I collect the milk, take it in a big IBC container on the back of my pickup truck, then they put it in this big vat and they pasteurise it and get rid of all the bacteria. Then it goes into another vat and I start heating it and stirring it. Then you let it all set and you cut the solids, the curds and drain the watery stuff away before putting it into moulds. It then has to sit in an ageing room, just a room on a rack for about a month before it's ready to eat.”

Katie's goats
Katie always wanted to own goats

The award winner’s journey towards starting Bryngaer Goats began six months before the Covid-19 pandemic. Just prior to lockdown, Katie bought the smallholding in Wales with her family. “I then bought three girl goats,” she explained. “I had to find a Billy goat so they could have babies, so they could produce milk. So I met another smallholder in Carmarthen, and I took my girls down to see Yosef, the Billy goat, and they came back in a month pregnant. Then, once they had their kids, I had to learn to kid – because I'd never done it before. Luckily, goats are quite good and they do it on their own. They're not like sheep. Then I built myself a milking stand and learned to milk one of the goats.

“After I’d milked the goats, I would go and filter the milk, take it out to the kitchen and just experiment by looking at books about making cheese. That’s how the whole thing started.”

As to how the business has been doing, Katie admitted that she’s had to get used to the world of social media in marketing Bryngaer Goats. “I refused to have an Instagram and Facebook account before I started the business, so I set those up and it got easier. I don't mind doing photography and things like that. It's just talking about myself. I'm not that good at that.”

Social media hasn’t been her only challenge and she added that the cost of borrowing facilities when starting the company has been tricky. In terms of next steps Katie plans to put the foundations in place to make cheese from her home. “I'm starting to look at grants now for this year,” she confirmed. “There's a lot to do, especially when you're trying to fit in festivals and markets as well.

“When I first started, I thought that no one knew about me, so I started doing farmers' markets. That was a really good way to meet customers. People were really interested in how you make the cheese and what you have to say, so that was definitely the best way of doing it rather than going to delis to begin with. Festivals were brilliant. I got into Abergavenny last year at the last minute, and I've not really done anything like that so that was really, really good. So many people got interested, and people were helping to promote me.”

When asked whether there was, upon reflection, anything she’d have done differently, Katie described how she wished she’d been “a bit braver”. She explained: “I didn't have the background so I didn't have the backing of people. I didn't have a publicity profile, so I couldn't really apply for grants. This Welsh Cheese Award has really helped and will really help with grant applications and setting up on my own.”

According to the Bryngaer Goats website Katie sells two different types of cheese. She sells her now award-winning Gafr Las, which is described to have a “subtle, medium blue”, and also sells Marta gafr – which is matured for two months instead of one.

You can find out more about Bryngaer Goats over on their website at https://www.bryngaergoats.co.uk. For the latest restaurant reviews, sign up to our food and drink newsletter here.