Posted: 18/09/2019

Swaledale back from the brink as new investors take up the mantle

The 1,000-year tradition of Swaledale looks set to continue after the last maker of the Yorkshire cheese was rescued from closure

Swaledale cheese, which has been made in Yorkshire for a thousand years, has been saved from extinction after the country’s last producer was salvaged by two entrepreneurs.

The crumbly cheese, which holds two PDOs covering cows’ and ewes’ milk versions, was in danger of being lost forever when the Swaledale Cheese Company was forced into liquidation in April because of poor sales. 

However, two investors have saved the business, which was first set up by the Reed family in 1987, by buying up the company’s assets, including its production premises in Richmond, North Yorkshire. Richard Darbishire, who was a co-founder of ice cream business R&R, and Swedish businessman Bengt Odner, have re-employed the company’s cheesemaker Nick Wormald and plan to start making Swaledale and Swaledale Blue using locally sourced, pasteurised cows’ milk.

“We managed to buy the company just in the nick of time,” said Darbishire. “We think the market is right for these kinds of cheeses. There is big demand for local produce and hard, artisan cheeses are growing. We are re-designing the branding and are working to improve product quality. The cheese wasn’t quite good enough previously, but there is definitely a big local following.”

Cheese is expected to be available in the run-up to Christmas with the company keen to focus on the independent retail market and re-forge relationships with wholesalers, such as Carron Lodge and Michael Lee. 

The dairy has the capacity to make 4.5 tonnes of cheese a month and previously produced a wide range, including flavoured products, cheddar and goats’ cheeses, as well as Swaledale. Darbishire said he plans to produce a much smaller range, focusing on key product lines.

Swaledale cheese dates back to the 11th century when Norman monks made sheep’s milk cheeses in the Yorkshire Dales. 

Andy Swinscoe, owner of the Courtyard Dairy in Settle, said that it was “positive news” that the business would continue. 

“It’s a cheese with a rich history so it’s good that it’s being kept alive,” he said, although warned that there was strong competition in the Dales cheese market. “There are already a lot of good cows’ milk cheeses made in the area, from very established products like Hawes Wensleydale to new raw milk cheeses like Stonebeck and Fellstone.”

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

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