A very nice article about us by Betsy Everett, a freelance journalist who coincidentally lives in the same village as Stu. Click here for the on-line version:
The ‘other’ cheese firm is worth tracking down
2:57pm Friday 13th September 2013 in Weekend
Betsy Everett vists the smaller of two Wensleydale creameries – the Ribblesdale Cheese Company
THERE are two cheese-making factories in Hawes and one of them is so small I can’t even find it, tucked away as it is at the back of an industrial estate in the Wensleydale market town.
Suddenly, a door opens in what looks like a not-verylarge green shed and I’m hailed by a third of the workforce, Stuart Gatty.
“Come in. Welcome!” he calls, with a geniality born of many years in the pub trade in the North-East and the Dales, until he found his true calling at the Ribblesdale Cheese Company.
Stuart’s love for the job shines through in his enthusiasm to explain the technicalities of scalding and pasteurisation and base cultures and volumes and all the other things associated with the making of goats’ cheese. And that’s before I’ve even clapped eyes on the boss, Iona Hill.
Iona has a friendly smile, a firm handshake, and a steely glint in her eye as she confirms that, yes, there are indeed two cheesemakers in Hawes.
“And we are one of them,”
she says, quite firmly. She doesn’t add “… and proud of it,” but that’s the unspoken message from the managing director of this small artisan company.
The other, of course, is the Wensleydale Creamery or, as she refers to them, “our friends up the road”.
The friends up the road make more cheese in a week than she makes in a year. They have a turnover of £25m per annum to her – well, considerably less. They have more than 200 employees at their sites in Hawes and Kirkby Malzeard. She has three: Stuart, part-timer Andrew Todd, and herself. The creamery makes the world-famous Wensleydale cheese from cows’ milk, she specialises in the not-so-famous, but very desirable, Ribblesdale goats’ cheese.
“Don’t get me wrong. We get on well. I just want people to know there’s somebody else making cheese in Wensleydale.
There’s room for two of us,”
she says with a smile.
The company was founded in 1978 when her uncle, Iain Hill, “a bluff, eccentric Yorkshireman,” bought a farm near Ribblehead with his redundancy money.
“His original business plan didn’t work so when his mother gave him more money and told him to do something useful, he went out and bought two goats.
She was incandescent. But they were in-kid, and eventually he started making goats’ cheese.”
As he was dying in 2006, Iain called his much-loved niece and asked her to visit and value the business for sale. A chartered accountant, Iona at that time spent her working-life travelling the world advising big businesses on finance and strategy for companies like Coutts, Deutsche Bank and Deloitte Touche.
“I was about to get on the plane and head for Dubai to work on a major project. Six months later I had bought Iain’s farmhouse and the business which by then was no longer making its own cheese. In 2008, I started to make the cheese on these premises.”
She sells mainly to wholesalers – packaging for supermarkets would be too labour-intensive on an already expensive product, though the northern chain, Booth’s, with a cutting counter, are a notable exception.
Elijah Allen’s of Hawes, always keen to support local suppliers, and Campbell’s of Leyburn, also take Ribblesdale’s unique cheeses.
The company has recently enjoyed notable successes, a three gold-star rating at the 2013 Great Taste Awards – the most rigorously-judged food awards in the UK – for its matured, natural-rinded goats’ cheese, and a gold star for the original goats’ and original sheep’s brand.
They have also taken gold, bronze and a highly-commended in the International Cheese Awards 2013.
It wasn’t long before Fortnum and Mason were on the phone from London, and then Bettys of Harrogate, each wanting to stock the Ribblesdale produce.
“It’s a fantastic achievement for the whole company. All three of us,” says Iona.