Berkswell Cheese is produced in our dairy at Ram Hall Farm in the small, picturesque village of Berkswell in The West Midlands.
Ram Hall is part of the Berkswell Estate and is now home to the 6th generation of the Fletcher family to farm the land here since 1881. The Farm is run by Stephen, his son George and George’s Grandfather Peter.
We farm in a way that is led by the natural course of the seasons and cycle of our flock. By grazing the ewes on diverse pastures as well as planting a complex range of additional feed we are able to provide them with a healthy balanced diet grown almost entirely on the farm; in return they provide us with wonderfully flavoursome, complex milk.
Our Flock is primarily made up of Friesland sheep. The Friesland is well regarded for being a specialist dairy breed that provides an excellent volume of milk.
In 2020 we began a cross breeding programme using Lacaune genetics to introduce greater diversity within the cheesemaking qualities of the milk. Lacaune sheep are best known as the breed kept in southern France to produce milk for Roquefort, the classic French blue cheese.
Over time we look forward to a homebred flock unique to Ram Hall and producing a quality of milk to be found nowhere else.
There is an old saying in farming; ‘Look after your animals and they will look after you.’
The health and wellbeing of our flock is incredibly important to us at Ram Hall. The sheep eat a diverse range of food produced here on the farm. We are proud of our animals and enjoy nothing more than watching them thrive.
Our most important crop is grass; for summer grazing and winter feeding.
The ewes graze free range over a mixture of perennial grass leys, many of which have been undisturbed for well over 100 years, and newly established herbal leys containing a mix of grasses, herbs and legumes including chicory, plantain, clovers, lucerne and birdsfoot trefoil plus many more.
We also grow as much of the feed we need for winter ourselves too. Crops of grass, lucerne and a whole crop mix of peas, vetch and spring barley are harvested for silage. Wheat, Barley and oats provide energy rich grain while field beans are added to boost the protein of their diet. All of these serve as ingredients for a mixed ration fed to the ewes while indoors during the winter.
Our arable crop rotation is supplemented with the growing of soil fertility enriching cover crops containing a range of species with varying root structures and nutrition fixing properties. They help to enrich the soil by drawing up naturally occurring plant nutrients via their deep roots. Certain species also fix other nutrients such as nitrogen from the atmosphere.
The cover crop decomposes into the topsoil and gradually releases stored nutrients, making them available to the newly establishing crop
For us diversity is the key to producing high quality food and we are seeking a working relationship between proven modern techniques of livestock and crop husbandry blended with a contemporary use of tried and tested knowledge gained over hundreds of years.
Mixing the ‘new’ with the ‘old’ in this way creates opportunities to reduce our reliance upon bought in chemical inputs thus allowing the soil time to heal and encouraging the return of old natural habitats.
The nature of our irregular shaped fields presents us with the opportunity for using awkward, unproductive corners and boundaries to sow bespoke plant mixes providing feed to pollinators in the summer or wild birds in the winter.
Ram Hall is part of the Berkswell Estate, owned by the Wheatley-Hubbard family since 1888; their support for our business in recent years has been tremendous. The farm has been home to six generations of the Fletcher family; Thomas Fletcher Snr. moved here from a neighbouring farm in 1881. The dairy ewe enterprise began with 35 ewes in 1989 alongside the long-established herd of dairy cows, which was dispersed in 1995 when the business concentrated on growing the flock of sheep and expanding the cheese making business.
2023 marks the 35th Anniversary of Berkswell Cheese.
It is understood that Ram Hall was built in the late 1500s, possibly as a dower house. A previous dwelling may have existed on the site.
During its long life, Ram Hall has been a multi-purpose hive of activity; there is a bread oven, meat smoker, malt drying pit, butchery, dairy, upstairs cheese maturing room, cellar and priest hole all within its four walls.
The pond at the rear was originally a three-quarter moat.
The house is constructed of sandstone and brick. Inside, the walls show the original Tudor style fireplaces, beams and doors with some of the second-floor rooms still retaining wattle and daub finishes to their walls.
It is believed that some of the beams were reclaimed from the previous house on the site and others were bought in from shipyards, possibly Gloucester.
There is no known documented history to say by whom, why or when Ram Hall was built.
It has been suggested that ’Ram’ is of Anglo Saxon origin and is purely coincidental that it forms a word we recognise in modern English and has no connection with sheep whatsoever!