20 March 1998

Local dairy still growing, thanks to Wensleydale

SMALL may be beautiful, but size certainly helps when it comes to milk processing. Its a fact not lost on small-scale dairy farmers in Wensleydale, North Yorks. They are surviving by supplying their milk direct to their own local creamery at Hawes, home of the world famous Wensleydale cheese.

The creamery collects milk supplies from 46 local dairy farms using its own tanker. There are no transport charges and no low volume penalties applied.

That allows small dairy herds, some producing no more than 150 litres of milk a day, to remain in business while neighbours in adjoining dales are being forced out by crippling collection charges.

Their story starts six years ago when Dairy Crest announced the closure of the Hawes creamery. Farmers daughter Alice Amsden and three other redundant managers got together with a local businessman to buy the creamery. With the pending demise of the Milk Marketing Board, they recognised the importance of the creamery in providing long-term employment for local people. Neither were they prepared to see an end to Wensleydale cheese manufacture which is an important part of the dales heritage.

Their solution was to maintain a local outlet for milk to dale dairy farmers. Today the creamery, run by Wensleydale Dairy Products, of which Mrs Amsden is a director, is a growth industry.

It draws on 32,000 litres (7000gal) of milk from 46 farms to produce 3.5t of cheese a day. Jobs provided by the plant have risen to l04 compared with less than 60, six years ago. And plans are being laid to double the capacity of the creamery this year – the centenary of cheese making at Hawes.

Mrs Amsden is confident of securing sufficient milk to meet creamery requirements from dales farmers. Important goals are retaining the quality and flavour of milk which has made Wensleydale cheese famous.

"There is a waiting list of farmers wishing to supply us because they can see the benefits of supplying a local creamery," explains Mrs Amsden. "It is very much a community partnership with everyone working together to the same end."

Producers are paid a standard price based on the fat and protein content of their milk. There are no collection charges or volume penalties. The current milk price is based at 4.2p/litre for each percentage point of protein and 2p/litre for each percent of fat. There is also a 0.5p premium supplier bonus for milk which reaches minimum 3.7% fat and 3.0% protein levels. It must also be free from antibiotics and other inhibitor substances and is in band A for somatic cell count.

Hawes currently has a 75% share of the market for Wensleydale cheese. It markets directly to 500 customers in the north of England and distributes through wholesalers and supermarkets.

The creamery is also active in export markets. A new ginger flavoured Wensleydale is proving popular in Japan, while a unique cranberry Wensleydale has quickly established itself as a market leader and is popular in the USA.

With its expanded capacity, Wensleydale Dairy Products intends to market its cheese world-wide. Production of a blue Wensleydale will recommence when additional storage becomes available, while a recent innovation is a creamy garlic Wensleydale.

Above: Alice Amsden inspects a Wensleydale before delivery.

Below:A variation on a theme.

WDP HAWES CREAMERY

&#8226 47 local dairy farmers

&#8226 Collects 32,000 litres milk/day

&#8226 Produces 3.5t cheese/day

&#8226 104 employees

&#8226 Accounts for 75% of Wensleydale cheese sales