Two cheesemakers who were made redundant by Dairy Crest and Long Clawson Dairy are on a mission to bring traditional Stilton making back to Derbyshire.
After being made redundant in 2008 and 2009, respectively, Alan Salt and Adrian Cartlidge decided to start their own business and built their cheese factory from scratch on farmland near the village of Hartington.
Last week they had their first audit by the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association (SCMA) to secure a licence to make Stilton from their factory, Hartington Creamery. Stilton has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status so it can only be made with milk sourced from Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Salt told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Adrian and I have more than 50 years of cheesemaking experience between us. But we still have to pass our test again to get the SCMA accreditation.
Protects the products
“The process will continue for several months but it protects the products. Tradition and provenance are very important – particularly after the meat saga we’ve had recently.”
There are currently five creameries producing Stilton in the UK: two in Nottinghamshire, and three in Leicestershire.
Dairy Crest used to make Stilton from its creamery in Hartington, which employed 180 staff. The site was acquired by Long Clawson Dairy when it bought Dairy Crest’s Stilton and speciality cheese business in September 2008.
The products were consolidated into Long Clawson Dairy’s existing business and “significant redundancies" were announced at the Hartington site.
Long Clawson Dairy’s chief executive Martin Taylor said the loss-making site’s problems were partly due to its decision to invest in unproven technology.
‘Sad when the factory closed’
Salt said: “I was so sad when the factory closed because all my working life, I was involved with it. People don’t think of Derbyshire as the home of cheesemaking but Derbyshire and Staffordshire had the first cheese factories in the country back in the 1870s. There were dozens of cheese factories around Derbyshire but they’ve all gone now.”
After being made redundant from Dairy Crest, Salt worked as a consultant training deli counter staff for Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Morrisons before joining forces with Cartlidge to “rise as a phoenix from the ashes”.
However, the project has not been without its challenges.
“Securing funding and cash flow has been the biggest lesson,” said Salt. “The planning restrictions and regulation were also tough. It’s been a hell of a steep learning curve.”
A grant of £80,000 was eventually secured from the East Midlands wing of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Further funding was secured from local investors such as the cheese shop in the village, which has provided a useful outlet for selling the company’s two current products: Peakland White and Pike Hall Blue.
These are already selling wholesale to local shops, restaurants and hotels so the customer base is growing.
Salt insisted that the business was very much a small-scale operation that would produce between 50 and 60t of cheese a year, as opposed to the former Hartington Creamery’s 6,000 tonnes.
“We’re just the horse fly on the back of the Shire horse,” said Salt. “We want to learn from the lessons of the past: don’t get too big too quickly.”