ON Saturday, Longley Farm celebrates 60 years of making top-quality dairy products.
The farm, in a stunning valley near Holmfirth, was set up in 1949 by Joseph Dickinson OBE and his brother, Edgar (MBE), and is now run by Joseph's son, Jimmy.
Family values and traditions are key to Longley Farm's success., and the majority of the 100 staff live locally. "We are a real community here," explains Jimmy. "We have had generations of families working here, and staff have married each other. We know that the staff are key to our success."
Jimmy's father was responsible for starting another chapter in Longley Farm's success story – the country's first commercial cottage cheese production.
"My father had seen cottage cheese being made on a large scale in America. Although cottage cheese is a traditional English product, it had never gone beyond being a specialised home-made product. From what he saw in America, he realised that it could be made on a larger scale and sold to a much wider public."
Longley Farm had moved into making cream as soon as rationing ended in 1954. Sales grew through the 1960s, and in 1970 they were one of the first dairies in the country to make yogurt. In 1973, they became the first in Europe to make cottage cheese on a commercial scale.
"The first experiments were carried out in a tin bath, which was quickly swapped for a small cheese vat," says Jimmy. On the back of growing interest in healthy eating and the popularity of recipes such as cheesecake, it was a big success.
Winnie Heppenstall joined the farm at the start of the cottage cheese experiment, working in packing. She was quickly joined by her sister, Hilda, her husband, Roy, her daughter, Dianne, and other relatives. Dianne is still working at the farm after 34 years, and is now in charge of Health and Safety. "There was a time when it seemed that the entire department was one extended family," says Jimmy.
Alongside Dianne, George Ashton arrived in 1975 to make cottage cheese and still works at Longley Farm, while Barry Haigh, chief engineer with 44 years service, has kept the equipment running. This is a combined total of over 100 years of expertise.
Proof of the quality of Longley's cottage cheese came in 1985, when it was successfully launched in Paris and, later, throughout France. This was despite being told that no British cheese was good enough
for the French and that a French name would be needed. With typical Yorkshire stubbornness, the doubters were proved wrong and "Le Cottage" was born. Twenty-five years later, it
is still on sale.
The latest chapter in the success story sees Longley Farm take on the Asian market. It currently sells gallons of natural yoghurt to Yorkshire's curry houses.
"We are about traditional core family values, which do seem to have been lost from a lot of businesses these days," says Jimmy.
Longley Farm refuses to add scores of new products, sticking to a belief in doing what they do and doing it well. "When you have a family business like this, you can't change quickly," explains Jimmy, but he admits that the relatively new vanilla yoghurt product is proving to be a big seller.
The farm is no stranger to progress in its working methods, either. It has its own wind turbine and Jimmy is looking at new technology to make production even more eco-friendly.
Longley Farm now processes 40m litres of milk a year to make their legendary products – curd cheese for the Yorkshire classic curd tarts, cottage cheese, yoghurt, cream, fromage frais, crme fraiche and butter.
The milk used in Longley Farm products is supplied by its own 250-strong herd of Jersey cows and those belonging to 25 dedicated Yorkshire-based Jersey farmers. The rest of the milk is supplied from 55 farmers based all over Yorkshire.
It is a far cry from the four cows, a horse, 30 acres and a big overdraft which Joseph Dickinson started with 60 years ago.