I FIRST visited Hawes nearly 30 years ago to report on the closure of the Wensleydale creamery which was to bring an end to centuries of the manufacture of the mild, creamy cheese, and throw about 70 people out of work.

It was as profound a shock as the closure of the steelworks in Consett or Redcar, or the shutting of the railway works in Shildon or Darlington.

Women huddled in a shop doorway to gossip tearfully and male community leaders spoke of the need to find a latter day Kit Calvert – he had created a co-operative in the 1930s to save the cheese.

I later found out that my article, headlined “The day the Dales dairy died”, had been set as a comprehension paper in an English O-level. Candidates were invited to write about the feelings in the close-knit townlet as the news spread. I still don’t know whether I should be proud that the article contained such a varied range of emotions that it could be used in an exam, or whether I should be insulted that it needed a comprehension exam to tease out the meaning of what I was writing.

Thirty years on, the dairy in Wensleydale has not just survived but is utterly thriving. There is just one street through Hawes, and on a dismally grey January day, every car was driving through and then brightly indicating to turn into the creamery.

The large visitor centre gift shop was crowded with people buying a huge range of cheese-related items and sampling a vast and ingenious selection of flavoured cheeses. We arrived at shortly after noon and Calvert’s Restaurant, which must seat 50 or 60 for its cheese-themed fare, was so booked there wouldn’t be a seat available for two hours.

The neighbouring coffee shop was only serving cheesy toasties, so we decided to swim against the indicating tide of traffic and return to the centre for lunch.

We chose Caffe Curva, which is almost opposite shop doorway of Elijah Allen’s foodstore where the women had huddled tearfully.

I was enticed into the café by the prospect of its homemade ham, tomato and Wensleydale soup, but sadly they had just replaced it with the more mundane-sounding tomato and red pepper.

Then I saw a Dales Beefburger emerge from the kitchen, with rashers of bacon and a square of melting cheese draped attractively across the top. It looked immense – but that was the last one.

Instead I order the café’s other trademark: a rarebit doorstep. Petra, my wife, ordered the avocado doorstep while our daughter, Genevieve, chose a fish finger butty. At £7.25, the butty was the most expensive item on the menu – even the burger was only £6.95 – and the doorsteps were £5.95 each. For an extra pound each, we ordered skinny fries.

The Northern Echo: The rarebit doorstep with sweet chilli relishThe rarebit doorstep with sweet chilli relish

The Northern Echo: The avocado and tomato topped doorstep at Caffe CurvaThe avocado and tomato topped doorstep at Caffe Curva

The doorstep was indeed a doorstep 1.5 inches of bread baked on the premises. It was topped with a cheese much stronger than Wensleydale which had oozed into the bread. It came with a little bowl of chilli jam, which was actually far too runny to be a jam, but as a dipping sauce, it worked splendidly, soaking into the bread and cutting through the fattiness of the hot cheese with a sweet zing.

It was accompanied by an imaginative salad – in fact, far too much salad for one person to consume. The green leaves were topped with a sharp pickled onion, and there was a serving of crunchy red cabbage which had been gently pickled almost in a fruity way.

Indeed, we later noticed that they sell bottles of their own sweet chilli relish and jars of their own pickled red cabbage and piccalilli.

Petra’s avocado doorstop overflowed with a tasty topping of tomato, orange, coriander and, of course, avocado, while Genevieve’s long butty contained nine fishfingers on a bed of iceberg lettuce served with a bowl of tartar sauce.

They appeared to be homemade fishfingers as they contained chunks of white fish in the irregular batter, and she was quietly pleased with herself for seeing off all nine of them.

The Northern Echo: Nine fishfingers in one butty at Caffe CurvaNine fishfingers in one butty at Caffe Curva

For four of us, with drinks, the bill came to £39.95 – the excellent skinny chips were an absolute bargain. Service was friendly and prompt, although it was nothing compared to the warmth of welcome dished out to a pair of sausage dogs who turned up in their coats. They were allowed onto the stone-flagged floor and were generally fawned over while being given free water and biscuits.

The Northern Echo: A pair of sausage dogs wait for their free water and biscuits at Caffe CurvaA pair of sausage dogs wait for their free water and biscuits at Caffe Curva

We took a sample of Caffe Curva’s homemade cakes, all excellent, but I’d already decided that dessert would be at a new ice cream parlour, about six miles east of Hawes on the A684 as it runs along the Ure.

The Hard Banks Ice Cream Parlour opened in October in a converted, echoy barn, with a roaring woodburner. With its car park a short walk away across a rain-lashed field, it feels as if lots of planning hoops have been jumped through.

The Northern Echo: Hard Banks Ice Cream Parlour in Wensleydale opened in OctoberHard Banks Ice Cream Parlour in Wensleydale opened in October

It sells Wensleydale ice cream made from the Jersey cows milked on the farm.

One scoop is £2.50, two scoops are £3.50, and there’s a range of sundaes, cakes and hot drinks.

Wensleydale ice cream is gorgeously creamy. Between us, we sampled salted caramel, passion fruit, and oranges and cream, plus a vibrant, fruity sorbet to keep the palate alive.

So if you can’t get into the cheese creamery in Wensleydale, there’s always the ice creamery to consider.


Caffe Curva, Market Place, Hawes, DL8 3QZ

Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday (floods permitting) 10am to 5pm.

Ratings out of ten: Ambience 7, Food quality 7, Service 7, Value for money 8