Behind the scenes at Whin Yeats’ Dairy in Hutton Roof
- Credit: Archant
When Max and Jenny Burrow’s children didn’t want to continue the family business, Clare and Tom Noblet stepped in. Sue Riley reports
EVERY Tuesday Clare Noblet’s mum arrives to look after her four young children. Nothing unusual in that, nor the fact Clare uses the day to make cheese by hand as farmers’ wives have done for centuries. But for her and husband Tom it’s more than a new hobby, it’s to ensure they can afford to continue working and living on the remote farm they rent in the Lancashire countryside.
The couple have an unusual arrangement in farming terms as they are in partnership with Max and Jenny Burrow whose four adult children didn’t want to take on their 250-acre upland hill farm at Hutton Roof. So Clare and Tom entered a unique partnership deal with the older couple to share the day-to-day running of the farm. Last autumn Tom was so fed up with the fluctuating milk prices – it costs more to milk a cow than the milk is worth – they decided to look at other options and Clare, a former district nurse, taught herself how to make cheese. After starting with a few cheese making kits and more than a handful of failures, Whin Yeats’ Dairy was created. There was just one problem – their four children aged from six to eight months left no time for making the cheese, so Clare’s mum Hilary stepped in and agreed to babysit every Tuesday.
They spoke to other cheese makers like Kirkham’s and Ribblesdale who were helpful. After securing a £20,000 loan from the bank Tom singlehandedly built the dairy – quite literally as he broke his left elbow early on in the build. It’s adjacent to the milking parlour so the 600 litres of milk from their 90-strong Friesian herd fed is piped in still warm when Clare makes the cheese.
The couple have concentrated on a Wensleydale-style cheese called Fellstone with a fresh flavour and slightly dry texture which they launched in October. The cheese is matured for two months and aged in cloth and butter to give it more flavour.
‘We sold some from our farm and also some markets to get feedback and it was all very positive,’ said Clare. ‘Over the years farms have always made cheese for their own use or to make some money and that’s all we are trying to do.’
The couple simply want a return for the milk so they can make it work long term. Wholesalers have approahced them but it’s not an option they want to explore.
‘We put a lot into looking after the cows and making the cheese. But that’s not where we want to go with it, I make one batch a week,’ said Clare.
Now people are also asking for their unpasteurised milk which they sell in plastic cartons and also eggs and lamb and pork on request.
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‘I got the pigs as a 27th birthday present from Tom,’ said Clare. ‘I’m a real romantic!’ chips in Tom, adding: ‘We don’t advertise, just word of mouth and it’s on a very, very small scale.’
The couple say they have no huge ambitions, they just want to continue with small levels of cheese making and ensuring every batch is perfect.
‘The ambition is to milk a cow and for it to be worthwhile,’ said Tom. ‘I want to milk cows for the next 30 years, we are proud that our milk is some of the cleanest in the country.
‘We do not want to alter the world, if we can carry on at this scale and make it pay, if the cheese can add value to the milk then the ambition is sorted! We want to stay here and farm here for our lifetime. It feels that with the cheese we are doing something in the right direction.’
The couple, both 30, met at a Young Farmers’ do in Morecambe and married eight years ago. Although Tom’s family were farmers historically he wasn’t brought up on a farm, but it was something the couple wanted to do. Four years ago Tom and Clare heard the Burrows were looking to share rather than sell the farm and the herd of cows they’d built up. Tom started working for them and now he and the older couple own the cows, sheep and machinery and the ‘farming partnership’, which is made up of the two couples, pays a rent to use the land and buildings. One day Tom will take over the partnership but continue to pay rent after buying all the stock and machinery from the Burrows.
‘It’s a very unusual set up, we were very lucky to find Max and Jenny,’ said Tom.
Tom was brought up in Garstang and Clare on a farm about 100 metres away from Country Harvest at Ingleton. It’s fitting as they are now selling their cheese in the food hall where Clare used to have a Saturday job.
‘We’re a local business and we wanted to link up with another local outlet so Country Harvest seemed exactly the right fit,’ said Claire. ‘My mum Hilary lives just down the road so I’m always passing by when I drop the children off at my parents, particularly on Tuesdays when I make the cheese!’