A woman who fled the war in Syria is celebrating success after launching a cheese-manufacturing business in Huddersfield.
Razan Alsous founded Yorkshire Dama Cheese in June this year, after spotting an opportunity to combine her Middle Eastern roots with Yorkshire produce.
Ms Alsous, who received support from West Yorkshire Enterprise Agency, has developed traditional halloumi cheese and is now selling produce across the region.
Yorkshire Dama Cheese was recently recognised a BBC Good Food Show award and has already caught the attention of investors after less than six months.
She said: “I wanted to do something that helped my family and built a good future for my kids in our new home.
“I went to the Jobcentre and told them about my hope to start a business and they referred me to the West Yorkshire Enterprise Agency and placed me on the New Enterprise Allowance.”
Ms Alsous left her home in Damascus in 2012. After arriving in Yorkshire, she noticed the scarceity of halloumi.
She told The Yorkshire Post: “Halloumi is very popular in Syria, we would usually have it for breakfast. When I came here I noticed there is not always halloumi available, sometimes it is just in the summer or in supermarkets.
“I did some research and discovered the UK is the second largest consumer of halloumi in Europe, but it’s not often manufactured, it’s imported.”
Yorkshire Dama Cheese uses cow’s milk from Windy Bank Farm in Liversedge and vegetarian rennet to produce handmade, traditionally-folded cheese.
Most halloumi is produced with sheep and goat’s milk, but Yorkshire cow’s milk “is very good to produce high-quality cheese with”, Ms Alsous said.
“There’s a big demand for Yorkshire milk,” she said. A lot of producers often ask for it.”
West Yorkshire Enterprise Agency placed Ms Alsous on New Enterprise Allowance, which provides financial support and mentoring for people who are out of work to set up in business. This enabled her to open a small production base in Linthwaite.
Ms Alsous said: “My motto is that nothing is impossible, especially when there are people out there who can help you. The financial help from the New Enterprise Allowance is small in value but big in opportunity.”
Ms Alsous said she has not been short of support since she left the ongoing conflict in her home country.
“It’s nice to live in Yorkshire, I’ve never felt away from my home,” she said. “People have been really nice, they have offered a lot of help. When people ask where I’m from and I tell them Damascus, they say, ‘We’ve heard about the situation there’. It’s been very nice dealing with everyone.”
Yorkshire Dama Cheese is currently sold from Green Valley Grocery in Slaithwaite and in farm shops in the region. It has also recently secured deals with two distributors.
This month, Yorkshire Dama Cheese was awarded Bronze at the 2014 World Cheese Awards, held at the BBC Good Food Show in London.
“I didn’t think I would win, as I’ve not been doing this long, but I’m so happy,” Ms Alsous said. “This award will increase sales. I’m starting to get offers of investment.”
Ms Alsous has now created a herbal cheese and plans to grow.
“I am very optimistic and excited about the future,” she added. “Within five years I am confident I will be in bigger premises, be offering a wider selection of cheeses and have more customers.”