Raw milk cheese producers have, in recent years, been battling against bureaucratic pressures to use only pasteurised milk in the production process. All of which goes against the grain of specialist cheese producers like Leon Downey of Llangloffan Farm Cheese. Besides, if you know the nature of the product you're buying, why should you be prevented from freely purchasing and consuming it? In this Country Profile we visit Pembrokeshire to find out about one such specialist cheese maker.
Leon, yours is a rather unusual route into the cheese making business. Tell us a little bit about how you got started.|
In 1977 I packed my viola, and with my wife Joan and our two young daughters, headed West. We stopped just in time, any further west and we would have dropped into the Irish Sea. We settled at Llangloffan Farm, Castle Morris, near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire.
This was a far cry from my previous profession in Manchester, you might think, when I was co-principal viola player in the Halle orchestra under the renowned conductorship of Sir John Barbirolli. Yes, I did enjoy 15 years of making music with many great musicians and performing in famous concert halls throughout the world. It sounds glamorous, but honestly the time had arrived for me to change my life. I needed a new challenge.
It was a huge decision to leave the Halle. My financial rewards were high at the time and we certainly took a dive in income by moving to Pembrokeshire, but the compensations are obvious. Fresh air, breath taking scenery, friendly people, and low crime and pollution compared with the big cities. These are things that money cannot buy. I am frequently asked if I still enjoy music. Yes, I left when music was still in my heart.
How has the business developed in the twenty-odd years you've run it?|
We started making cheese in 1977 and were instrumental in reviving farmhouse cheese making in Wales. Llangloffan is a full fat hard cheese made on the farm, in our own dairy using traditional equipment and methods. We have taken advantage of the Pembrokeshire tourist industry by opening the farm to visitors with demonstrations of the cheese making process - 6 days a week, between Easter and October.
I am very concerned about the problems of mass produced junk food and how it is affecting people's health, so this also gives me an ideal opportunity to highlight the advantages and benefits of eating real food from the countryside. This venture attracts many visitors from all over the world, including many children from local schools. A farm shop and tea room has generated 5 family jobs and forms part of a well thought out element in the business strategy.
What are the particular problems or advantages you face as a rural business?|
One of the major problems producing a food product here, in Pembrokeshire, is distribution. This is why we have a farm shop and open the farm to visitors. But as you see, there is a method in my madness. Most of our wholesale outlets to specialist retailers has spread by word of mouth, in other words the visitors have been marketing Llangloffan Cheese. So the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of living here in Pembrokeshire. To be able to start work in the morning without having the stress of travel is very special.
What are the biggest marketing challenges that face your business?
The biggest headache cheese producers are experiencing is the destructive attitude from so-called "Food Experts" in Whitehall (ie. implementing unnecessary regulations and then blaming Brussels for them).
There seems to be a theory within the Department of Health and MAFF that food should be void of any kind of bacteria, but as you know most thinking people realize that they are on a course of human destruction. I find it amazing that now we are in the 21st century the "Experts" say we have been doing it wrong since life began. In reality the human being is now losing its immunity.
Unfortunately these departments have enormous power and can get away with all sorts of misleading statements in the media and press. So the major difficulty we have as producers of raw milk cheeses is not only of marketing the produce, but at the same time convincing the public that our cheese is more beneficial for our health.
What sort of successes or failures have you had in marketing, or getting your products to market?
Marketing our cheese has never been a problem. We have concentrated on letting the cheese market itself by reputation and recommendation.
In our early years we had a really funny experience. A neighbour of ours was on holiday in Berkshire and while he was there he visited Patrick Rance's cheese shop ’Wells Stores’ and asked for Llangloffan Cheese. Patrick Rance, unable to admit that he had never heard of it replied: ‘I am sorry we have just sold the last wedge'. Later that day I had a phone call from Patrick placing an order for Llangloffan Cheese and that is how it started in the specialist cheese market. Now 23 years later we supply about 70 shops in the UK and 18 shops in the States.
What plans do you have for the future development of the business?|
Llangloffan Farmhouse Cheese has a fine reputation and I hope that my son-in-law Scott, who has become an accomplished cheesemaker in his own right, continues with the good work. I think our priority - 'quality rather than quantity' - should continue to be basis of the business. My grandson could be the next to join and this would make Llangloffan Cheese a 3rd generation enterprise. It has been my dream to create a rural way of life for my family, and to do it here in Pembrokeshire - in one of the most beautiful areas in Wales - is a bonus.
What, if any, assistance have you been able to obtain from government, local, or EC bodies?
In 1977 when we started, diversification grant aid in the farming community was almost unheard of, so was not available like it is today. In a way, we started at the wrong time but there again we had the benefit of no competitors; Llangloffan Farmhouse Cheese was financed from our own resources.
In recent years local authorities have been able to offer small grants towards things like promotion, computer training and even grants for the purchase of machinery which we have been able to take advantage of. We now have an organisation to promote Welsh cheese 'CAWS', and Pembrokeshire C.C. are very enthusiastic towards local produce. This is going to benefit all of us in the future.
Can you tell us something more about CAWS?
The WDA (Welsh Development Agency) for a number of years has been promoting and giving assistance to food producers in Wales. About 4 years ago CAWS [Cheesemakers Association of Wales] was formed to help and promote Welsh Cheese, this being an offshoot of the WDA.
Over the last 12 months WDA Food Directorate - Working for Food Producers in Wales - has changed significantly with the appointment of new staff. Extensive marketing to support producers has been well received with the aim of raising the profile of Welsh food and drink.Welsh cheese makers are looking forward to a more positive relationship with this new organisation.
Are there any government initiatives that you'd like to see for rural businesses?
I would like to see in the future, Governments giving support to the people who elected them into office. It is quite obvious that as soon as they reach the Houses of Parliament they become the puppets of Whitehall. If Politicians had some work experience in the field they represent, this would surely give them ammunition in fighting the unhealthy attitude which is so rife in Whitehall, thus benefiting small businesses. Until this changes I see no hope for the people who are devoted to producing the foods from the countryside.
As I said earlier, it is about time the regulations that are made in Brussels for the benefit of us all are the same throughout Europe, and cut out all this nonsense of blaming Brussels every time a British business is forced to close when, in actual fact, it is the additional regulations that are added to the ones from Brussels by this sick bureaucracy, that are the problem.
How do you perceive the general public regards the rural business community?
The British public are becoming more suspicious of health experts' advice on food matters, and it is blatantly obvious that they represent only the multi-nationals who employ them. I recently heard on the BBC a so-called food expert who said that there was no evidence that sugar was harmful to our health. She was employed by one of the companies that produces chocolates etc. I need say no more!
What tips or advice do you have for anyone who is thinking of setting up business in the countryside?
For anyone contemplating setting up a countryside business I give only one piece of advice: 'Set yourself the highest of standards and have the courage to make your views known to the ones who would try to destroy the very things you are working for.'
Contact: Leon Downey, Llangloffan Farm Cheese
Ph.+44 (0)1348 891241 | Fax +44 0870 0561 043 | e-mail Llangloffan Farm Cheese or visit their website
Many thanks to Leon Downey for prising himself away from the cheese vats and presses to provide us with this insight into the family business.
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