From medieval monks to global corporate deals: How Wensleydale became a cheesemaking powerhouse

Wensleydale has been a powerhouse of cheese production for almost 900 years.

Library image of cheese maker Richard Cloughton at the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival. .Picture by Simon Hulme
Library image of cheese maker Richard Cloughton at the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival. .Picture by Simon Hulme

Wensleydale is in the global spotlight today, after the Canadian company Saputo revealed it had entered into an agreement to acquire the activities of Wensleydale Dairy Products Limited.

The business, which will join Saputo’s Dairy Division (UK) under its Europe Sector, operates two facilities located in North Yorkshire and employs approximately 210 people.

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Subject to UK regulatory requirements, the transaction is expected to close in the second half of July.

Saputo is one of the top ten dairy processors in the world.

Saputo said the acquisition will complement and broaden its existing range of British cheeses, including Cathedral City and Davidstow cheddars.

Wensleydale Dairy Products manufactures, blends, markets, and distributes a variety of specialty and regional cheeses, including Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese.

The business sources its milk from 40 local farms and uses its own unique cheesemakers.

The art of producing Wensleydale Cheese has been perfected since the 12th century. Cheese has been made in Wensleydale since 1150 when Cistercian monks settled four miles from Hawes.

They passed their art on to farmers’ wives who continued to produce the cheese from their farmhouses. In 1897, a merchant of Hawes began buying milk from surrounding farmers to manufacture the cheese on a large scale.

Earlier this year, Farming Minister Victoria Prentis visited the Wensleydale Creamery near Hawes to discuss the introduction of the new UK geographical indication schemes (GI).

The scheme protects the authenticity of produce associated with a geographical area and is being streamlined following the UK’s departure from the EU.

The Wensleydale Creamery was awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission in December 2013 for its Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese.

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