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We are an award winning two and a half person artisan cheese maker based in Hawes and specialise in goat cheese. There are almost three of us: Stuart, Iona, part timers Malcolm and Pete.
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.
Ribblesdale Cheese was formed in 1978 by my uncle, Iain Hill, a tall, charismatic Yorkshire man through and through, who moved to the Yorkshire Dales in 1974 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. Grandma Hill, Victoria Maude, was not impressed. He did not realise that they were in kid and in short order Victoria and Maude produced two fine offspring and milk. Iain’s drinking buddy, the local vet suggested that he make cheese and that is how we started. Iain built up the herd to around 100 that lived in a barn opposite the farm house; they were very naughty and kept escaping, causing much chaos and mayhem around the surrounding fields and annoyance to neighbouring farmers.
We are called Ribblesdale Cheese because Iain first made cheese in his farm house, a mile away from the Ribblehead viaduct and the source of the River Ribble. The area around the viaduct gave us the idea to name two of our cheeses, Batty and Jericho, after two old settlements inhabited by the Victorian era railway workers who built the viaduct.
Iain perfected his cheese craft and built a loyal local following, progressing 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 – still to this day – prefer not to eat goat cheese as they are often reminded of the sometimes smelly, rustic style goat cheese available in days gone by; fortunately, public taste is changing and many now appreciate the taste, variety and health benefits associated with goat cheese.
Eventually, due to arthritis, Iain sold the goats and bought in the goat milk and started to make cheese himself at other cheese maker’s premises as his initial home dairy became too small; carrying kits of goat mlk through the house was not very practical. Eventually he contracted out the cheese making process to various dairies. 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 2018, we are a very different business, but without losing sight of our humble and very authentic beginnings. By 2004, Iain had located the business in a small unit in nearby Horton in Ribblesdale. In 2008, we became cheese makers once more and needed more space to install a dairy. Our only option for larger premises was in Hawes, where we created a new dairy from scratch.
Everything we make is by hand: the milk is stirred by hand, the curd is hand cut, hand shovelled and potted by hand. A vat takes as long as it takes, there are no set times or schedules, no push button machinery, we go by feel, timing, the look, and the rate of acidity development; our cheese really is artisan, completely made by hand by two experienced people, Iona and Stu.
All of our cheese is made in small batch production, in a long, slow and traditional way, to recipes that Iona developed. Many people do not appreciate the time and physical effort involved in cheese making – we can be in at 6am, setting the pasteuriser off and finish washing down at about 4.30pm – and this is only the beginning.
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