TWO Leek cheese makers forced out of their jobs when a major factory closed down have fought back by opening their own premises.
Adrian Cartlidge of Wallbridge and Alan Salt of Chorley Street had worked at Hartington Creamery, which closed in 2009, for more than 25 years.
Following redundancy the men wanted to open their own cheese production unit using their knowledge of the industry and to keep alive cheese-making in the area.
Now steps are taking place for the business to be given a licence to bring back the production of the famous Stilton cheese brand to Hartington.
After searching for premises an outlet was found at Pike Hall near Hartington.
Adrian and Alan joined forces with Garry and Claire Millner, who own a cheese shop in Hartington and live at Reapsmoor near Longnor. They were also joined in the new project by Simon Davidson who also owns a cheese shop, in Chesterfield.
With the support of several organisations and a £80,000 grant from Defra, a £450,000 investment project was started last year to build a production unit with new equipment.
Adrian, aged 45, said: “I worked at the Hartington cheese factory for 26 years. When it closed in 2009 I went self-employed as a consultant.
“I then decided I wanted to start a business as it was something I had always wanted to do. I was forced out of a job I had a lot of experience in, so I took the opportunity to open a new cheese factory.
“We have now started to make Peakland Blue and Peakland White cheeses. Presently we are making about a quarter of a ton a week. These are early days as production will be increased.
“The secretary of the Stilton Cheese Association visited us last week and we have undertaken an audit to get a license to bring back production of Stilton cheese to the area.
"There is a big demand for Stilton, and if we get the go-ahead later in the year it will bring a dramatic increase to the business and more employment. With having Garry, Claire and Simon involved, we had an immediate outlet for our cheese.
“We are now producing for hotels, restaurants and Chatsworth Farm Shop.
“The venture has been supported through the LEADER programme in the Peak District Rural Action Zone, part of the Rural Development Programme for England, which is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union, and is delivered by the Derbyshire Economic Partnership.”
Alan, aged 57, said they had built most of the factory themselves.
He added: “I worked for Dairy Crest for 26 years. It owned the Hartington cheese factory for many years before selling it to Long Clawson.
“We have done a lot of work on building the new outlet, which was completed late last year.
“However we have kept the premises, which were a large cow shed and stable, virtually the same from the outside.
“The grant from Defra was very helpful for us. We now hope to bring Stilton production to Hartington parish later in the year.”
Hartington Creamery was opened in 1876 and at its height employed 200 people. It was shut down in 2009 after owner Dairy Crest sold it to rivals Long Clawson, which then moved its cheese production to an urban site outside the National Park.