The History of Wensleydale Creamery & Where it is Now

What is Wensleydale Creamery?

Wensleydale Creamery is an award winning cheese maker. Their products are so famous that they’re exported around the world.

Find out how a group of Cistercian monks created Wallace and Gromit’s all time favourite cheese.

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The Beginning of Wensleydale Creamery

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

When the monks came to Yorkshire, they brought with them the art of cheese making. Originally, the only known way of making cheese was to use sheep’s milk.

The local farmers eventually learnt how to make cheese. After this they then took their time to create the perfect cheese recipe.

Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, the farmers had adapted the recipe. Instead of using sheep’s milk, they decided to replace it with cow’s milk.

However, cow’s milk wasn’t the only type that the farmers used. They discovered that by including a little bit of ewe’s milk helped to encourage the blue mould to grow.

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

Edward was very successful in his business venture. However, he noticed that the quality of some of the farmers’ products were poor.

As a result of this, he bought the milk from the farmers. Edward hoped that 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.

During 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 more milk than before.

How Wensleydale Creamery became what it is today

Chapman began to establish his cheese business in Upper Wensleydale. At the same time, a man called Alfred Rowntree was trying to accomplish the same.

Rowntree opened three factories. These were in Masham, Coverham, and Thoralby in Lower Wensleydale.

In Lower Wensleydale, Rowntree continued his production of mature Wensleydale blue cheese. However, 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.

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

As a result, there was a dramatic fall in prices. This was due to the mass total of cheese combined with the imported cheese from the colonies.

In 1933, the Milk Marketing Board was formed. During this time it looked like it could be the end of production in Wensleydale.

Farmers wanted to keep the production of the cheese local. They created a 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. However, this soon changed.

During the war, restrictions were imposed. This meant that specialist cheeses were withdrawn.

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

He introduced the 1lb Baby Wensleydale which proved to be extremely popular. In the first year, over 50,000 of them sold.

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

The following year, Calvert decided to retire.

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

This would become the last Creamery in the dale. In total, 59 jobs were lost and the production of Wensleydale Cheese moved over the border into Lancashire.

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

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

During 1993, the factory underwent major refurbishment. This was an effort to increase the production of cheese.

As a result of the buyout, the cheese was renamed ‘Real Wensleydale’. It was made in both white and traditional blue varieties.

Flavoured cheeses were created to add to the collection. These included ‘Real Wensleydale with Ginger’ and the extremely popular ‘Real Wensleydale with Cranberries’.

The Creamery also produced other varieties. Some of these were mature, extra mature, and smoked.

Despite being popular, Wensleydale Creamery were just getting by. Their saving grace came in the form of two animated plasticine characters called Wallace and Gromit.

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

As a result, Wensleydale Creamery struck a marketing deal with Aardman Animations. Wallace and Gromit would prove to be very successful.

It was so popular that the feature length ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ was released in 2005. This upped the sales of Real Wensleydale by 23%

Where Wensleydale Creamery is Now

Today, Wensleydale Creamery is still going strong. It continues to be an extremely popular cheese that is known around the world.

Currently the business has over 190 employees working in the factory. Their milk is also bought from 36 Wensleydale farms.

At the factory, there is a viewing gallery for the cheese production rooms. There are also guided tours around the famous creamery for visitors.

Real Wensleydale has gained Protected Geographical Indication from the EU. This means that for the cheese to be true Yorkshire Wensleydale it must be made in this dale.

More importantly though, it can’t be moved to the dark side.