It is the only cheese in the UK to be matured in caves and the makers at Ford Farm in Dorset believe the return to the 16th century method of storage has given them a unique selling point for the future. The stable temperature and humidity at Wookey Hole in Somerset's Cheddar Gorge provides an ideal maturing environment, as well as imparting a distinct, nutty flavour.

Ford Farm's hand-made West Country Farmhouse cheddar is made in Dorset according to strict PDO guidelines. It was launched in Sainsbury's last August but is also on sale to the 300,000 tourists visiting the caves, where the cloth-wrapped blocks are on display.

It is one of a range of cheeses offered by the company, including blended and flavoured products. Bought-in blocks of Cheshire and Wensleydale are mixed with marmalade, blueberries or honey and mustard.

The business came about when two West Country family cheesemakers joined, and owners Mike Pullin and Cedric Littman combined their bulk and miniature or flavoured Cheddar productions.

Pooling resources and adding 7,000 more square feet of plant enabled the new company to increase output to the current 2,000 tonnes a year, of which 220 tonnes is traditionally made West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.

Ford Farm's cheeses achieve branded status on the major retailers' deli counters, among them their naturally smoked Oakwood brand, which is also in Harrods

Exports take up 25% of the business, in particular a brand of sweet Cheddar-style cheese called Coastal, which is popular in America.

The cave-aged Cheddar is subject to an exclusive arrangement with Sainsbury until early next year, though other retailers have already expressed an interest. It sells for around 10-15% more than the non-cave-aged equivalent, to reflect the transport costs to and from the caves, and an organic cave-aged farmhouse Cheddar variety may be next in line.

Company MD Mike Pullin recognises the need to generate publicity in unusual ways but only in combination with quality of product.

"You have got to stimulate people's interest all the time," he said. "You need to get products recognised and get people to try them, but it is also important that what you are putting on to the market is absolutely how you want it to be."