New owners for Richmond-based Swaledale Cheese

Left to Right: Bob Bigley, Bengt Odner and Richard Darbishire.

Three entrepreneurs have acquired the UK’s only producer of Swaledale cheese from the liquidators and have ambitious plans to re-vitalise the award-winning brand.

Richard Darbishire, Bob Bigley and Bengt Odner bought the Richmond-based Swaledale Cheese business in July and their first products will soon be ready to hit the shelves of both regional and national independent retailers and wholesalers ready for the Christmas season.

Richard was one of the first employees at Leeming Bar-based ice cream manufacturer R&R Ice Cream which started out in 1985 with just five staff and a turnover of some £200,000.

He was there for 17 years, latterly as procurement director, during which time the company grew to become the UK’s largest own label ice cream maker.

Bob Bigley also worked at R&R Ice Cream where he was director of corporate development for five years from 2010.

A former director of Hambros Bank, Bob was also partner in charge of corporate finance in the North for accountants KPMG.  Bengt Odner has held industry posts in the USA as well as senior banking and property roles on mainland Europe.

Richard Darbishire, who is in charge of production, said: “Our intervention has saved this important UK cheese from extinction.

“We are confident that, by aligning our capabilities with the growing demand for our products and further developing the skills of our workforce, we will be able to restore the company to its rightful prominent place in the UK cheese sector.

“The brand was previously available in Waitrose as well as in leading restaurants, independent retailers and wholesalers.  We aim to restore these listings.

“All our milk comes locally from a single source and we are focussing on seeing that both our blue and natural cheeses are fully matured and ripened in our specially- designed, on-site facilities to produce that unique Swaledale flavour.”

Atley Hill Raw Milk at Scorton near Northallerton provides all the milk for the business and currently delivers some 4,000 litres of milk a week through Payne’s Dairies from their 70-strong herd of Ayrshire cows.

The farm won the silver award for the best-tasting milk at the 2019 Great Yorkshire Show

The natural and blue versions of the cheese are hand-salted, have natural rind and are available in 2½ kg, 1kg, ½ kg and 200 gms formats.  No plastic packaging is used at any stage during the production process with the finished products being shipped in waxed paper.

The range is currently available from wholesalers such as Cryer & Stott and Michael Lee Fine Cheeses as well as retailers Lewis & Cooper in Northallerton.

The company bosses say they also be attending a number of regional Christmas markets to further promote the brand.

Set up in 1987 by David and Mandy Reed, the Swaledale Cheese Company revived the production of the semi-hard, crumbly cheese, which can trace its history back to the 11th century – when Norman monks started making sheep’s milk cheeses in the Yorkshire Dales.

The company secured two PDOs for the cheese in 1996, covering cows’ and ewes’ milk versions, however David Reed died suddenly in 2005, while Mandy Reed died in a tragic accident in 2012.

Their two children Sam and Louise then took on the business. Their customers included Waitrose, Selfridges, John Lewis, indie retailers and restaurants.