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King of Cheese; Alan Salt celebrates his 50-year Jubilee as a Stilton cheese maker! Part 1

King of Cheese; Alan Salt celebrates his 50-year Jubilee as a Stilton cheese maker! Part 1

This is part one with part two next week: This summer we celebrate Alan Salt’s (often referred to as Salty) 50-year Jubilee as a Stilton cheese maker! This is something we are very proud of and honour Alan’s continued dedication to the cheese industry. If you have ever been lucky enough to meet Salty or within his company you will understand why he’s such a valued member of the team here at Hartington Creamery, funny, witty and very good at making stilton!

Part 1 of 2: We were lucky enough to take an hour out of Salty’s busy schedule to ask everything from the history of Hartington Creamery, Stilton memorabilia to his big BBC Country File appearance.

How, when and why did Hartington Creamery begin?

Hartington Dairy started in the early 1870’s it was set up by local farmers with the help of the 7th Duke of Devonshire from Chatsworth House he rented the land the site was built on he was also the major landowner in Hartington and the farmers were mostly his tenants   – The first purpose built cheese factory in the UK was started at Longford in Derbyshire  on the 4th May 1870 – The idea of factories was to benefit from the economies of scale- prior to factories cheese was made on most farms but quality varied considerably , the idea of factories was to create more uniformity. The Longford site was deemed a success and the idea was copied in  other parts of the UK , particularly in Derbyshire and Staffordshire , very soon many Creameries sprang up including Hartington.

What is your historical timeline involvement with the Hartington Creamery? 

I started at Hartington Dairy on  Monday July 17th 1972 -then called Dove Dairy – and owned by the Milk Marketing Board _ I worked for the MMB ( which became Dairy Crest)  for 36 years , 26 directly at the Hartington site and 10 years attached to Dairy Crest head office but still very involved with Hartington- I had a PR job which involved travelling all over the UK and overseas ( US, France, Holland) promoting Dairy Crest products particularly Hartington Stilton. When Hartington was sold in 2008 I was made redundant and worked for 3 years as a consultant in the cheese industry before commencing in 2011, with a small group of people to set up the new Hartington Creamery limited which started production in October 2012 . I have worked at the Dairy since then but am now in “Semi retirement” and only work 2 or 3 days a week, basically when they need me, I usually run the pasteurizer, a job I first did in 1972 so I’m finishing as I started LOL.

How has the cheese industry changed over the past 50 years? What affect has this had on Hartington? 

One big change is the amount of cheese that is prepacked nowadays – in the 1970’s Hartington’s production was 20% prepack, 80% whole cheese by the mid 1990’s these figures were about reversed. During the 80’s and 90’s a lot of old Cheese sites closed and the UK generally had less (but bigger Dairies) , this trend has changed particularly in the last 10 years with the number of small “micro dairies” that have opened up -The UK now has more cheese varieties than it probably ever had had, some say we now have more than the French! 

When the original factory closed, we believe you wanted to bring production back to Hartington. Did you face any complications? 

When the Dairy closed completely in 2009 at Hartington it was a bitter blow to the staff and the area, a while after (end 2010) another ex Hartington worker called Adrian Cartlidge ( who I’d worked with for years -also his dad had been my first boss in 1972)- came to me and said “ it’s wrong the dairies gone we should do something about it “ . Adrian had worked at the dairy for many years and between us we had about 50 years of experience – He was the sites Technical manager and I’d been production so we had a good start! We had no direct business\financial experience but we got 3 people who owned cheese shops and eventually set up the operation at Pikehall.

Part 2 of this fascinating history and exceptional achievement from Alan will be available next week…

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