There are two cheese makers in Hawes!
We are a two and a half person artisan cheese maker based in Hawes and specialise in goat cheese. The two and a half of us are: Stuart, Iona and part timer Malcolm who works with us on Thursdays.
About Our Business
There are two cheese makers in Hawes – we are the small, artisan cheese makers, specialising in goats cheese. We are tucked away at the bottom end of Hawes, North Yorkshire, on a small industrial estate: Upper Wensleydale Business park, next door to the Goodlife and adjacent to the new GTEC building. It amuses me no end when people ask me: do you make cheese on your farm? And do you have your own animals? I am utterly honest and say not any more to both, which is true – my uncle started the business at his farmhouse, now where I live, and he had 100 goats, but telling people that we make cheese on an industrial estate doesn’t quite have the same cachet.
In these days of environmental health regulations, this is the best place for us where we can make cheese in the right space, with the right equipment and services, safely and hygienically even if the location is not too photogenic. My uncle used to have a small herd of goats, but these days, we buy in the region of 180,000 litres of goat milk a year, so we would need over 1,000 goats to satisfy those requirements. It is a shame that we find ourselves in Wensleydale as opposed to Ribblesdale, where we started, but realistically, there isn’t any commercial space big enough for us in Horton in Ribblesdale – and we have already outgrown our space in Hawes and we only have about 2,200 sq. ft!
Ribblesdale Cheese was formed in 1978 by my uncle, Iain Hill, a tall, charismatic Yorkshire man through and through, who moved up to the Yorkshire Dales after engineering a redundancy payment from Lewis’ where he was a store manager. His initial idea, after buying a dilapidated farm house was to start an outdoor centre for inner city children. This did not work out. He tried a few other ideas with little success until his mother, my grandmother who was by then living with my uncle and his children, gave him some money with strict instructions to ‘do something useful’ with it.
So, (much to Grandma Hill’s dismay) he bought a pair of goats and named them Victoria and Maude after his mother. He did not realise that they were in goat as they shortly afterwards produced two fine offspring and milk. His drinking buddy, the local vet suggested that he make cheese and that is how we started. Iain built up the herd to around 50 -100 that lived in a barn opposite the farm house, though they were very naughty and kept escaping, causing much chaos and mayhem around the surrounding fields and annoyance to neighbouring farmers.
Iain perfected his cheese and built a local following which included selling frozen goat milk to Andrew’s girlfriend’s father for his orphan lambs and progressed to local and then national wholesale outlets. Goat cheese was a relatively new and different phenomenon in the 1980s where cow’s cheese was the norm and many people – and still to this day – won’t eat goat cheese as they are reminded of the sometimes smelly rustic style goat cheese available at French markets; fortunately, public taste is changing and many now appreciate the health benefits associated with goat cheese.
Eventually, due to arthritis, Iain sold the goats and bought in the goat milk and started to make it at other cheese maker’s premises as his initial home dairy became too small until eventually he contracted out the cheese making process. Sadly, Iain died in 2006 and was succeeded by his niece, Iona, (that’s me!) who knew absolutely nothing about cheese or cheese making. It was a steep learning curve!
In 2014, we are a very different business but without losing sight of our humble and very authentic beginnings. In 2008, we became cheese makers once more and moved from Horton in Ribblesdale (hence Ribblesdale!) to Hawes to larger premises to create a new dairy and now make hard goat, cow and sheep cheese. In 2013 we made our first soft goat cheese.
Everything we make is by hand: the milk is stirred by hand, the curd is hand cut, hand shovelled. Yes, you get big muscles! A vat takes as long as it takes, there are no set times or schedules. All of our cheese is made in a long, slow and traditional way to recipes that I have developed. Many people do not appreciate the time and physical effort involved in cheese making – we can be in at 7am, setting the pasteuriser off and finish washing down at about 4.30pm and if we are making 2,000 litres, we make just 100 cheeses at a time.
Our average make is 1,900 litres of goat milk twice a week throughout the year. We are busier from January to March when we also make sheep’s cheese and we make like crazy in September and October for Christmas sales. We make cow’s cheese between once and twice a month and we run cheese making classes which have become very popular and have a waiting list.
We specialise in goat cheese: about 90% of our sales are goat cheese, but we also make award winning sheep cheese, the odd bit of Wensleydale cow’s cheese and, in 2013, we made our first sortie into soft goat cheese making and won a Gold at Nantwich 2013 for our new Goat Curd. We make about 23 tonnes of cheese a year, not a huge amount, but enough to satisfy our customers.
Our goat’s milk comes from a single herd that are located about an hour and a half away from us, in Lancashire as there are no milking goats available to us in N Yorkshire. It is single source and excellent quality. Our ewe’s milk comes from Simon Stott at Laund Farm, Chipping, just over the border in Lancashire who has 400 Friesland sheep and again, this is single source.
Our cow’s milk is from a single pedigree herd of Friesian, Ayrshire and Shorthorn cows just 16 miles away from us.
The cheese we make ourselves includes: Superior Goat, Smoked Superior Goat, Original Goat, (Booths take this cheese), Smoked original Goat, occasionally an unpasteurised goat cheese, a traditional bandaged natural rinded goat cheese, Wensleydale cow cheese, a traditional bandaged wensleydale, an unpasteurised wensleydale, our own sheep’s cheese and a soft goat curd.
Other than Booths, we do not sell to supermarkets, only to fine food, delis and farm shops via our loyal network of wholesale customers. Good times!
Recent Awards Won by Year
- Great Taste Awards 2014: Aged Goat Gouda – 3 Gold Stars (Top 50)
- Great Taste Awards 2014: Natural Rinded Goat cheese – 2 Gold Stars
- Great Taste Awards 2014: Natural Rinded Sheep – 1 Gold Star
- Great Taste Awards 2014: Superior Goat – 1 Gold Star
- Great Taste Awards 2014: Goat Curd – 1 Gold Star
- Nantwich 2014: Aged Goat Gouda in two classes – Gold x 2
- Nantwich 2014: Goat Curd – Gold
- Nantwich 2014: Superior Goat – Bronze
- British Cheese Awards 2014: Aged Goat Gouda – Silver
- British Cheese Awards 2014: Goat Curd – Silver
- British Cheese Awards 2014: Matured Natural Rinded Goat – Silver
- Shortlisted by Yorkshire Life for Best Local Producer
- Nantwich 2013: Goat Curd – Gold
- Nantwich 2013: Natural Rinded Goat cheese – Bronze
- Nantwich 2013: Natural Rinded Sheep– Highly Commended
- Great Taste Awards 2013: Natural Rinded Goat cheese – Three Gold Stars
- Great Taste Awards 2013: Original Goat – One Gold Star
- Great Taste Awards 2013: Original Sheep – One Gold Star
- British Cheese Awards 2013: Goat Curd – Bronze
- British Cheese Awards: Natural Rinded Goat cheese – Silver
- British Cheese Awards: Superior Goat Yorkshire Goat Gouda – Silver
- Nantwich 2012 (first time ever entered) – Natural Rinded Goat cheese – Gold
- Nantwich 2012: Superior Goat Yorkshire Goat Gouda – Silver
- Nantwich 2012: Original Goat – Highly recommended
- Great Yorkshire Show: Unpasteurised Goat – second prize in class 103
- Great Taste Awards Two Gold Stars: Old Tyme Wensleydale
- Great Taste Awards Two Gold Stars: Natural Rinded Matured Goat
- Great Taste Awards One Gold Star: Original Goat
- Great Yorkshire Show: Yorkshire Goat Gouda – second prize in class 54
- Great Yorkshire Show: Smoked Yorkshire Goat Gouda – third prize in class 60
- Great Yorkshire Show: Natural Rinded Matured Goat – second prize in class 57
- Great Yorkshire Show: Superior Goat – third prize in class 56
- Great Taste Award: Original Sheep 1 Gold Star
- Great Yorkshire Show: Smoked Original Sheep – second prize in class 56
- Great Yorkshire Show Supreme Champion with our Superior Goat cheese
- Great Yorkshire Show: Superior Goat – special prize in class 5
Stuart was born in South Africa to British parents, making him an original East Londoner, (East London in South Africa!) The family returned to England in 1977 and after a somewhat peripatetic childhood, Stuart found himself in Basingstoke doing a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. He completed two years before moving to Cullercoates, near Whitley Bay to join the family restaurant business.
After his parents sold their business, not knowing which path to take, after two years of engineering and three years of cooking, he decided to take a job as a commis chef at the Rose and crown in Bainbridge, bringing him to the Yorkshire Dales.
Stuart spent the following 22 years working in various pubs in the Yorkshire Dales as a chef, chief bottle washer and various managerial positions, culminating in running the Green Dragon at Hardraw. After 22 years in the hospitality industry, Stuart has changed direction, into the world of artisan cheese.
Stuart’s likes nothing better than to walk his dog Pip in the middle of winter, with the north wind blowing on a deserted Bamber
Beach in the North East. He has been known to dust off his golf clubs and get the odd round in and enjoys playing snooker. Stuart is unsurprisingly, a good cook and his favourite food is fish and shellfish. He is a self confessed fan of 80’s music and believes that Jeremy Clarkson whould be an MP. Stuart also acts as Master of Ceremony, presiding over quiz nights at local pubs, for which he also sets the questions. Stuart’s dislikes include tinned spam, followed by his father’s home grown broad beans, Sunday drivers and caravans. Stu’s most over used phrase is, ‘No, I don’t miss the pub trade…’
Stuart joined us in June 2010.
Iona is Yorkshire born and bred and has lived in the Yorkshire Dales since November 2006.
Iona started off professional life with a degree in law and trained to be a solicitor. Iona quickly realised that she did not have the makings to be a solicitor (read: was rubbish at) and left before finishing her articles. There followed a brief interlude of managing small scale unit trust portfolios where she picked up an interest in finance and she then embarked on a training contract with Chartered Accountants Deloitte Touche. She qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1988 and joined KPMG where she was a manager. She became an FCA in 1999.
After 15 years or so freelancing around the world as an accountant/project manager specialising in business turnaround, performance measurement and strategy, (during which time she gained an MSc from Bath University Business School) she returned to the Yorkshire Dales in 2006 and on 1st April 2007 took over her uncle, Iain Hill’s cheese business.
Iona is also the owner of Penny Pig and her brother Snouter who are (now huge) pet pigs, 3/4 Kune Kune and 1/4 Tamworth – more Tamworth than Kune Kune as they are getting a little on the large side. They are probably the most loved pigs in Yorkshire with their own field to rampage and dig up, the odd sheep to terrorise, plenty of tummy stroking and morning and evening room service. She also has 12 hens who are happy and lay no matter how sub zero the temperatures go and 3 scaredy geese who sleep, eat with and generally lurk near the pigs, squawking. ‘I love my pigs’ is probably her most over used phrase.
She lives in a house with a date stone of 1690 but is regrettably a testament to the 1970s (still replete with flock wallpaper and artificial pine dado rails) and a major on-going black hole kind of restoration project. The only original feature in it is the rising damp and dry rot. One day……
As a three year temporary distraction to playing with the pigs, prising off dado rails and ripping up floor boards, in December 2012, Iona graduated from Leeds University Business School gaining a Distinction in an MSc in Manufacturing and Leadership, an excellent course. She enjoys reading, suduku, the occasional pint of 80 Bob, Radio 4 and attempting to grow vegetables: rabbits 30, Iona nil.