Lowna Dairy: Yorkshire’s Goats Cheese Royale

Goats cheese Yorkshire

With royal connections, several World Cheese Awards under their belt and supermarkets knocking at the door, Lowna Dairy look set to take their Yorkshire Wold’s based goat’s cheese operation to further success.

It’s been almost a full decade since Tom and Tricia Wallis found the goat’s cheese they were making at their farm in Raywell, East Yorkshire was becoming increasingly popular with local restaurants. Phone calls enquiring about their product were arriving with increasing regularity from the region’s chefs and orders started flooding in. This prompted them to start entering their cheeses at award shows and when they landed a silver medal from the British Cheese Awards at their first attempt they realised that their Lowna Dairy operation might just be more special than they had ever dared to hope.

The Wallis’s farm and dairy is to be found on the sunny side of a valley about four miles from the Southern end of the Yorkshire Wolds. Tricia has lived here since she was a small girl, when her parents farmed mink and kept a few geese. As the mink trade diminished in the early seventies the decision was made to convert the farm to keep goats and when Tricia met and married husband Tom, in the early 90’s, he found himself placed on milking duty.

A holiday in Scotland and a trip to a goat’s cheese making concern in the West Highland’s inspired the couple to move into cheese production; a decision also motivated by the birth of Tom’s first grandchild, who was lactose intolerant. ‘For kiddies with an intolerance to lactose, soya is usually seen as the only alternative’, Tom explains ‘but many people who can’t drink cow’s milk can drink milk from goats, it’s just that it is relatively hard to find.’ Determined to bring goats milk products to wider recognition, Tom went on a cheese-making course, extended the dairy and, in 1999, cheese production at Lowna began in earnest.

Today the farm is home to around 100 goats and the dairy produces milk, delicious ice cream and eleven different types of cheese – including French-style blue cheese, ash-rolled cheese and a very delicate, traditional crumbly soft cheese. The awards have continued to roll in and, after a Lowna cheese won a gold medal at the World Cheese Awards, Tom and Tricia were invited to judge at the event, something they now do every year.

Perhaps Lowna’s proudest claim is their ongoing royal connections. Tricia eyes light up when she tells how selling their cheese at fairs held at nearby Burton Agnes Hall lead to a friendship with the Hall’s owners, Lord and Lady Cunliffe-Lister. When the new Lowna Dairy was built in 2006, the Cunliffe-Listers organised for the Duchess of Cornwall to cut the ribbon. Impressed by the operation (and the cheese), the Duchess invited the Wallis’s to inspect the Duchy of Cornwall’s Highgrove farm and they even went on to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. ‘I kept the Highgrove visit a secret from Tom, as a surprise for his 60th birthday,’ says Tricia ‘but, because Tom has his finger in every part of the operation, making arrangements to cover his duties without him knowing was a nightmare.’

Lowna cheeses are very well known throughout Yorkshire; a quick glance through the dairy’s client list reveals that there is barely a high-end restaurant or gastro-pub in the county that hasn’t featured a Lowna product on their cheese board. Most weekends see Tom touring the region in the Lowna-wagon mobile shop and taking the dairy’s products to farmer’s markets. It’s at these that goat’s milk ice cream comes onto its own, often outselling the cheese in the summer months.

But now the rest of the country is cottoning on and Tom and Tricia’s goat’s cheese is finally receiving national attention. Though they have turned down requests from major supermarkets to stock their product, they have recently accepted an offer from a London-based specialist distributor to take their cheese nationwide. They are even currently (sort of) on display at the Royal Academy – as part of the RA’s Wolds-sourced restaurant menu which accompanies the celebrated David Hockney show.

What is both surprising and heart-warming about Lowna is that the Wallis’s are organised and ambitious but also determined to keep the operation as home-spun as possible. Tricia, for instance, knows the name of every single goat at the farm. ‘We live with these goats for around ten years,’ she reasons ‘they become our friends so the least we can do is name them and get to know them.’ Tom, too, tries to keep everything intimate and friendly; he delivers the cheese personally to local customers and, as a result, has become good friends with most of Yorkshire’s top chefs.

So this little goat farm on the sunny side of a valley in the Yorkshire Wolds has produced royal connections, culinary acclaim, world awards and some of the tastiest, artisan goat’s cheese for many a long mile. Let’s hope the rest of the country gets a taste for it soon.

Dave Lee

Accompanying high res j-pegs are available here: http://bit.ly/Aov9U3 – please contact Dave Lee regarding usage.

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Categories: Uncategorized, Writing, Yorkshire Ridings magazine

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