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Fowlers closes after 350 years of trading but Sage Derby lives on

Posted: 1 September 2023

By Patrick McGuigan

Fowlers Sage Derby cheese Fowlers of Earlswood
Fowlers Sage Derby Cheese

Britain’s oldest cheesemaker Fowlers of Earlswood, which can trace its history back to 1670, has closed down, but its flagship Sage Derby cheese will continue to be made by Hartington Creamery.

Fourteenth-generation cheesemaker Adrian Fowler stopped production last month and is in the process of selling his equipment and premises in Warwickshire. It spells the end for cheeses such as Warwickshire Clothbound and Soft Bard, but Sage Derby will live on, after being sold to Derbyshire-based Stiltonmaker Hartington Creamery.

“I’m really pleased that Fowlers Sage Derby will continue,” said Fowler. “It’s going home to Derbyshire, where it was first made in the 1600s.” Fowler told FFD that the dairy, first constructed by his great, great grandfather, required £500k investment, which would take 20 years to pay off. “I’m approaching 60 and my daughters have seen the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the place, so there was no question of them taking it on,” he said, adding that attempts to sell the business as a going concern had been unsuccessful.

Last year’s increases in milk and energy prices had also played their part in the decision, while the cost-of-living crisis was starting to affect sales at the 270 local delis and farm shops he supplies. Fowler will continue to work as a consultant, helping Hartington develop Sage Derby, and offering technical advice to other cheesemakers.

Fowlers Sage Derby, which accounted for 50% of the company’s sales, is a hard cheese that has a layer of dried sage running through the middle and on the rind. The cheese originated in Derbyshire and was historically made for festive occasions. Sage also has antimicrobial properties, which stopped the cheeses from cracking and ‘blowing’ during maturation.

This article first appeared in the September 2023 edition of Fine Food Digest.