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A TASTY BUSINESS

Times have certainly changed since Tilly Carefoot started out in her family’s cheese-making business.

“We used to throw the milk-maids in the milk back then" she laughs as she recalls the different levels of health-and-safety advice back in 1985.  “We kept pigs on the farm back then as well, you would not be able to do that these days, but I think it is for the better.   The level of hygiene you have to keep in a dairy at these days is unbelievable compared to when I started out, but it’s definitely a change for the better.”

The demands of modern manufacturing have been largely brought about by the standard required by the major supermarket chains, the same groups which have been under fire for squeezing dairy farmers across Lancashire.

Singletons Dairy in Longridge, where Tilly Carefoot in now managing director, knows all about these pressures with all the supermarkets ‘Big Four’ – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – among just some of the retailers they supply, along with local chain, Booths, and – if things go well – the North’s most recent arrival to the tussle for your shopping pound, Waitrose.

“The supermarkets hold all the cards,” says Tilly, “whether you are a farmer, a diary or any other food supplier.  “The Government produced a White Paper a few years ago to try and change things, but i don’t think it changed anything.”

The strongest card the supermarkets hold is the ability to import cheese with nearly half of all non-milk products sold in the UK today being imported due to a dwindling number of processors.

Not that Lancashire appears to have any such problems with Singletons joined by the likes of Dewlay, based in Garstang, which picked up three trophies and 15 medals at Natwich Cheese Show, and Butlers Farmhouse Cheese from Inglewhite which picked up a trophy and 29 medals, to name just two.

The answer lies in the country’s climate, explains Tilly.

“We have so much rain that the grass grows so readily and that means the quality of milk we produce is second to none.  “Rather than throw milk away, farmers made it into cheese.”

Singletons Dairy which has already recognised the opportunities which exist beyond its domestic markets.

It exports to more than 30 countries across the globe from Europe to the more exotic parts such as the islands of the Caribbean and Balearics where it is enjoyed by many expats.

But what of the real emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China?

“China is not really a big market, but they are trying to like it because it is a Western food stuff, which they aspire to.” says Tilly.  “I think a lot of the products we exports at the moment are aimed more at British ex-pats or people with British connections.  “Having said that, we eat a lot of French cheese now, what’s to stop English cheese becoming popular overseas as people become more cosmopolitan in their tastes?”