High Weald Dairy, West Sussex
PUBLISHED: 12:32 02 October 2008 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 February 2013
Incredibly, these dairy farmers outgrew their land in the Ashdown Forest and moved to 300 acres on the High Weald. And now their organic cheese products are just thriving, says Kate Eastman...
High Weald dairy, Tremains Farm, Horsted Keynes, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 7EA
Tel: 01825 791636
HIGH Weald Dairy is a family run business established in 1988 within Ashdown Forest. Today it can be found in the High Weald of West Sussex, just south of Horsted Keynes, and owned by Sarah and Mark Hardy.
"We moved to this 300-acre organic dairy farm four years ago," says Mark. "We had outgrown the Ashdown Forest site so we decided to move. This building used to be the grain store of the farm and my office used to be one of the grazing boxes for the cattle. This location is perfect for the organic milk we get from the farmer, George Butler."
High Weald Dairy produces hard and soft English and Mediterranean style cheeses similar to halloumi and feta - created by the talented makers of the award-winning range of speciality cheeses from organic sheep and cows' milk.
"I started milking sheep to make halloumi cheese for the Greek Cypriotes in north London, which initially took me to Cyprus to learn how to make it properly," says Mark. "It all grew from there. We gradually started branching out to other cheese and now we do about eight main varieties plus a few variations like smoked, herb or peppercorn. Originally it was very difficult because people weren't used to cheese being made from sheep's milk - nowadays the consumer has become much more aware of what's available."
Mark is in charge of the production and Sarah is in charge of the sales plus the accounts and wages. With 150 tons of cheese produced a year, Mark, Sarah and the team certainly work hard all year round.
"We supply 150 farm shops and delicatessens direct with our own vans, which is about 60 per cent of our business, selling to Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Twenty per cent is sold to wholesalers and 20 per cent to Waitrose and Sainsbury's. Plus we go to about 15 farmers' markets a month which is always nice to get direct feedback from our customers." says Sarah.
Sheep milk is pure white and has a rich but not a strong taste. Compared with other milks, the fat and protein break down more rapidly in the stomach to help digestion. People with an intolerance to lactose or with an allergy to milk protein can often drink sheep milk and suffer no ill effect. Sheep milk contains almost 100 per cent more calcium and 33 per cent more protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals than cows' milk.
"We love making sheep's cheese - that's where our roots are. It's such a nice milk to make cheese from because only six litres of milk makes a kilo of cheese instead of ten from a cow," says Mark.
Last year High Weald Dairy launched a new cheese similar to Port Salut and named after the local village church of Saint Giles. They use only the best organic cows' milk from the farm but had a dilemma about the orange rind.
"The Port Salut rind uses a South American berry which has a preservative in," says Mark. "Because we're organic we couldn't use that so after many trials and tribulations we now rub organic carrot on to the cheese that gives the same lovely bright orange colour."