Posted: 16/07/2019

Last maker of 1,000-year-old Swaledale on the brink

Swaledale Cheese Company has shut down and let go its staff but administrators are seeking a buyer to save it

The future of Swaledale cheese – which has a thousand-year history and is protected under EU law – was in the balance last month after the country’s only producer was put into liquidation.

Swaledale Cheese Company was forced to make all three of its staff redundant and call in administrator FRP Advisory in April. The administrator said in a statement that the company had been hit by “financial pressures, following a downturn in production.”

“Every effort was made to save the company, however its cash position unfortunately meant the only remaining option was to close the business,” said Martyn Pullin, partner at FRP Advisory. 

As FFD went to press, FRP said it was in advanced negotiations with a purchaser to buy the business, but the assets were also up for auction in case these negotiations failed.

Set up in 1987 by David and Mandy Reed, the Swaledale Cheese Company revived the production of the semi-hard, crumbly cheese, which can trace its history back to the 11th century – when Norman monks started making sheep’s milk cheeses in the Yorkshire Dales. 

The company secured two PDOs for the cheese in 1996, covering cows’ and ewes’ milk versions, but was beset by misfortune the following years. David Reed died suddenly in 2005, while Mandy Reed died in a tragic accident in 2012. The company was subsequently run by their two children Sam and Louise, who made around 1.75 tonnes of cheese a week, including both types of Swaledale, as well as blue and flavoured versions, and a smoked goat’s cheese. Customers included Waitrose, Selfridges, John Lewis, indie retailers and restaurants.

Richard Holmes, owner of Yorkshire cheese wholesaler Cryer & Stott, said the closure had come as a shock.  

“To lose that sort of history can’t be taken lightly,” he said. “It leaves a big gap in the artisan side for cheese in Yorkshire. We supply a lot into restaurants, and Swaledale was always a cornerstone of a great Yorkshire cheeseboard.” 

At Settle-based The Courtyard Dairy, owner Andy Swinscoe said that Swaledale sheep’s milk cheese was once “as iconic as Wensleydale in Yorkshire”.

“But it’s fallen out of favour over time,” he said. “Twenty years ago, there were very few sheep’s milk cheeses made in the UK, but there’s more competition now, both from small farm producers and larger dairies.” 

This story appeared in the July issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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