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Butlers to take over Tunworth and Winslade production after acquiring Hampshire Cheeses

Posted: 2 April 2024

By Patrick McGuigan

Tunworth new packaging

Consolidation of Britain’s artisan cheesemakers continued last month with the surprise news that Hampshire Cheese Company had been bought by Lancashire-based Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses.

Founded by Stacey Hedges in 2005, Hampshire Cheeses is well known for its Camembert-style Tunworth and spruce-wrapped Winslade, which will now join Butlers’ range alongside Blacksticks Blue, Kidderton Ash and Button Mill. Hedges will continue working in the business, as will head cheesemaker Charlotte Spruce, with production remaining in Hampshire.

Butlers is now the largest independent soft cheesemaker in the UK, according to owner Matthew Hall, who told FFD he was on a mission to drive a “soft cheese renaissance” in Britain. 

“The majority of the fixture remains cheddar, but usage occasions for soft and blue cheese are growing,” he said. “Britain makes more than 700 types of cheese and, when you add in the headache of getting Continental options into the UK [because of post-Brexit import rules], British soft cheese really starts to make sense. We see so much potential for nurturing Tunworth and Winslade.” 

He added that sales of both cheeses would continue to focus on independent retailers rather than supermarkets, while more sustainable packaging could also be introduced for the cheeses. 

The acquisition follows a turbulent time for Butlers, which suffered a devastating fire at its Longridge maturing and packing site in November. The company concentrated on soft cheese production in the run up to Christmas, erecting a temporary packing site at its dairy in Inglewhite, and is now constructing new facilities at Longridge.

There has been a growing number of acquisitions in artisan cheese in recent years as the UK market evolves. Carron Lodge acquired the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co, Ribblesdale and Singleton’s in 2022. More recently, Hartington Creamery bought Fowlers Sage Derby, and Two Hoots in Berkshire has ceased production and sold Barkham Blue to Village Maid. 

Meanwhile, several artisan cheesemakers have closed down leading to the loss of cheeses such as Berkswell, Laverstoke Mozzarella and Baronet.

Stacey Hedges told FFD the deal would mean better sales and marketing support, as well as potential investment to increase production and sales in the North. “We’re at capacity at Christmas, but not all year round so there is room to grow,” she said. “We felt Butlers was a good fit because they are a family business and fourth generation cheesemakers.”

This article first appeared in the April 2024 edition of Fine Food Digest .