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Berkswell production ceased as Ram Hall and its herd move on

Posted: 1 October 2023

By Patrick McGuigan

Berkswell Cheese, Ram Hall Dairy
Berkswell Cheese, Ram Hall Dairy

Berkswell sheep’s milk cheese, one of Britain’s best known artisan cheeses, is set to disappear from counters following the closure of Ram Hall Dairy, where it has been made for nearly 35 years. Berkswell has been made in the West Midlands by the Fletcher family since 1989, using raw sheep’s milk from their own flock. But owner Stephen Fletcher decided to close earlier this year due to ill health, rising costs and tough trading conditions.

As FFD went to press, a deal was being finalised to sell the flock of 800 sheep to BlackLion Vodka in the Cotswolds, which previously bought whey for distilling from Ram Hall. The drinks company plans to supply King Stone Dairy in Gloucestershire with sheep’s milk, for a new Ossau-Iraty style cheese, and take the whey for its vodka in return.

Fletcher, who is currently selling his cheesemaking equipment, will vacate the farm where his family has lived since 1881 and help set up the milking operation. He told FFD the cheese business was still solvent, but a combination of factors were behind the difficult decision to quit.

“We’ve taken hit after hit,” he said. “I’ve not enjoyed the best of health, but we first noticed a drop because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit and tariffs imposed by Trump on British cheeses to the US. Then the Pandemic blew big holes in our sales. The last straw was the hike in energy costs. We put our prices up as much as we dared, but it still wasn’t enough.”

Fletcher set up the business with his mother and father – initially his mother made cheese in plastic buckets meant for home brewing. The hard cheese, which got its flying saucer shape from being moulded in two colanders, was a favourite of Michelin-starred chefs and was exported around the world by Neal’s Yard Dairy.

It won numerous awards, including Supreme Champion at the Artisan Cheese Awards and the The James Aldridge Memorial Trophy.

“We’ve had tremendous satisfaction, pleasure and fulfilment from being farmers and cheesemakers,” said Fletcher. “It’s been a privilege to be part of the British artisan cheese revival. There’s obviously huge sadness, but there is also a sense of relief. It had become so stressful that the pleasure had gone and it had become a slog.”

This article first appeared in the October-November 2023 edition of Fine Food Digest.