Wensleydale Creamery – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 11

What is Wensleydale Creamery?

Wensleydale Creamery is an award winning cheese maker with their products so famous that they’re exported around the world. Find out how a groups of Cistercian monks created Wallace and Gromit’s all time favourite cheese.

The Beginning

Wensleydale Cheese dates all the way back to the 12th centure. It started when a group of Cistercian monks from the Roquefort region of France settled in the area.

When the monks came to Yorkshire, they brought the art of cheese making. Originally, the only milk used to make cheese was sheep’s milk. 

When the local farmers got hold of it, they took their time to create the perfect cheese recipe. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the farmers had adapted the recipe to replace sheep’s milk with cow’s milk.

However, cow’s milk wasn’t the only type the farmers used. A little bit of ewe’s milk was included to help encourage the blue mould to grow.

There was a man called Edward Chapman who was a corn merchant from Hawes. In 1897, he became one of the largest buyers of farmhouse cheeses in the area.

Edward noticed the quality of some of the farmers products were poor. As a result of this, he bought the milk from the farmers with the hopes he could make a better quality of cheese himself.

Chapman opened the very first dairy factory in Wensleydale. During the summer months, he bought around 200 gallons of cows milk every day.

Through out the winter months in the same year, a woollen mill in Hawes closed down. Chapman bought the mill and by spring in the following year, was taking in even more milk than he was before.

Becoming what it is today

A the same time Chapman was establishing his cheese business in Upper Wensleydale, so was a man called Alfred Rowntree. Rowntree opened his factories in Masham, Coverham and Thoralby in Lower Wensleydale.

In Lower Wensleydale, Rowntree continued his production of a mature Wensleydale blue cheese. Unfortunately for him, the popularity of this type of cheese was declining.

People were beginning to prefer the non-mature white variety. The cheese product that Chapman created was becoming more favourable.

The depression in the 1930’s caused the Wensleydale cheese makers to struggle. The problem wasn’t a shortage of milk, instead there was an over production of cheese.

There was a dramatic fall in prices due to the the mass total of these cheese combined with the imported cheese from the colonies.

The Milk Marketing Board formed in 1933. It looked like it could be the end of production in Wensleydale.

Farmers wanted to keep the production of the cheese local. They offered contract to take the Dales milk away from the area.

In 1935, Kit Calvert chaired a meeting at the Hawes Town Hall. He wanted to rescue the town’s Creamery which was the last remaining cheese factory in the whole of Wensleydale.

Kit, along with the locals, decided to raise money for the town’s Creamery. In total, the locals raised £1,085 while Calvert himself invested £200 for the cause.

Before World War 2, the company produced thousands of 1lb and 2lb truckles for the local Christmas Market. During the war, restrictions were imposed meaning specialist cheeses were withdrawn.

Calvert decided to build a new creamery in Hawes along the border neighbouring Gayle in 1953. The cost of the new creamery was £15,000.

He introduced the 1lb Baby Wensleydale which was extremely popular. In the first year over 50,000 sold.

By the 1960’s, they were selling over a quarter of a million cheeses each year. In 1966, the Milk Marketing Board bought the Wensleydale Creamery for £500,000. Calvert retired the following year. 

Dairy Crest is a subsidiary of the Milk Marketing Board. In May 1992, they decided to close the Wensleydale Creamery.

This was the last Creamery in the dale. 59 jobs were lost and the production of Wensleydale Cheese moved over the border into Lancashire.

The redundant workers were outraged. They campaigned to keep Wensleydale Cheese in the Yorkshire Dales.

For the sake of cheese-lovers everywhere and the count’s good name, the campaign was successful. John Gibson and his team pushed through a management buyout in November of the same year.

Major refurbishment of the factory took place in 1993. This was an effort to increase production.

The cheese was renamed Real Wensleydale. It was made in both white and traditional blue varieties.

There were also flavoured ones such as ‘Real Wensleydale with Ginger’ and the extremely popular ‘Real Wensleydale with Cranberries’. The Creamery also produce mature, extra mature and smoked varieties.

The saving grace for the company came in the form of two animated Plasticine characters. These are called Wallace and Gromit.

Nick Park chose Wensleydale to be Wallace’s favourite cheese. This wasn’t because of its northern location by in his words the name would be ‘fun to animate’.

Wensleydale Creamery struck a marketing deal with Aardman Animations. It proved so popular that the feature length Curse of the Were-Rabbit was released in 2005. This upped the sales of Real Wensleydale by 23%.

Today the factory has over 190 employees. Milk is bought from 36 Wensleydale farms.

There is a viewing gallery for the cheese production rooms. Also, the creamery give guided tours.

Real Wensleydale has Protected Geographical Indication from the EU. This means that to be true Yorkshire Wensleydale it must be made in this dale and more importantly cannot be moved to Lancashire.