Where it all began...

The history of Northumberland Cheese Company began with the founder Marc Robertson. Marc Robertson was working as a sheep farmer in the eighties on Soppit Farm in Elsdon, Northumberland, and he was producing lamb. At this point in time, farmers were heavily subsidised by the EU (then the EEC) under British Agricultural Policy. Marc began to have concerns that he was too heavily reliant on the subsidies, and in order to become more independent, he was keen to generate some income for himself. It was 1984.

Marc read an important book by Olivia Mills; a veritable milk pioneer, she wrote about milk production, and potential diversification. He was able to contact her personally (such was publishing in those days!) and, bolstered by her advice, he travelled to Holland to gain some experience. 

On his return from Europe, Marc bought his first cheese press, and two moulds. Under the advice of Olivia Mills, he milked the sheep successfully, and made his first batch of sheep’s milk cheese in a bucket in the kitchen sink in the farmhouse (the sink could act as a bain-marie). He came to hear about a cheese store at the Tower Hotel in Otterburn, and sent some over to them to safeguard. 

In Spring of 1985, Marc tried the sheep’s milk cheese that he had made. Though he wasn’t overjoyed with the result, he wanted to pursue and improve it. He converted half of the 18th century outbuilding at his farm in Soppit, and spend the summer making cheese and yoghurt under the brand name the Redesdale Sheep Dairy. Custom came in different forms; for example, a doctor in Durham took a lot of sheep’s yoghurts for patients who were lactose intolerant. Marc enrolled in a 2-week module cheese making course at Reese Heath in Nantwich, which allowed him to understand the cheese making process in greater depth.

Further development of the business came in different forms. He was luckily enough to qualify for a diversification grant from the National Farmers’ Union, which allowed him to buy more equipment. Another very fortuitous development was help from a Dutch couple, who, motivated by community interest and social enterprise, approached Marc to help out. They had a background in dairy farming, and Marc being to learn to milk a cow.
After 3 or 4 years- concerned about how the cool Northern climate was affecting sheep milk yield- Marc turned his attention to cows’ milk and began producing cows’ milk cheeses. Also, because Marc was milking animals, and there was a café and shop, the farm qualified for an ‘attraction’ status, and thus brown and white tourism signs were issued. These proved invaluable in attracting custom.

The business was progressing very well, and in 1996, it was necessary to move to from Soppit Farm to Blagdon, where we are currently based. It also signalled a re-brand, and the Redesdale Sheep Dairy began operating as Northumberland Cheese Company. Today, as well as selling to wholesalers, retailers, farm shops and caterers, we sell online, and we produce cheese wedding cakes. 

Marc began his working life as a farmer, and fuelled solely by the wish to pursue a project, he turned into a businessman. This humble business has weathered a few storms, and caused a few of its own, but today produces 1 tonne of cheese a week, and continues to grow. Northumberland Cheese Company will always be a credit to Marc Robertson. 

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