Good Practice Database - Country - UK - Isle of Mull Cheese
Good Practice Database

Isle of Mull Cheese

Practice on:

This family business emerged slowly as the family renovated a derelict farm over several years.  The farm's milk operation began to meet a local demand.  It was a policy decision at Government level (to abolish milk marketing system) that caused them to cease liquid milk sales and diverted the whole supply to a cheese marketing activity they had been slowly building.

Food production is high on the list of Scottish Government policies and the project has enjoyed support and funding for investment and marketing.  It has used the image of its Hebridean island location to achieve a premium in the market.

Practical details:
NUTS 2: UKM5 North Eastern Scotland
Start date: 1984
Type of initiative:  private
Description of the practice:

Adding Value to a farm product. Using natural environment as a marketing tool. Creating portfolio of businesses for sustainability – farming cheese making, visitor tours, shop, holiday cottages.

As mentioned previously; the abolishment of milk marketing system was a policy decision by the Government; but this has worked in The Isle of Mull Cheese’s favour, they had a small production of cheese, but when abolished decision was made they diverted the whole supply to the cheese marketing activity.  
Scottish Government policies support food production through investment and marketing.  The island energy policy is an environmental plus – close relationships with environmental authorise are essential.
The business sells its cheese through the image of the island and outstanding location.  Its promotion features its non pasteurised process and the no-travel from cow to cheese.

This business produces the only remaining traditional farmhouse cheese in the Hebrides.  It is located at the north of the island of Mull (population 2667)  on a hillside above the island capital Tobermory and about 25 miles from the vehicle ferry port for Oban on the mainland (45 minute sail).
In 1984 it became clear that Mull needed a dairy farm to allow the island to cope with the growing and unpredictable level of visitors whose needs were impossible to deal with from the mainland.  Jeff Reade began to offer this service by providing the main retail supplier (SCWS) with whatever was needed at short notice from his small herd of 8 cows.  He was able to use the surplus for making cheese.  This arrangement continued for 17 years during which time he steadily developed his cheese production.  The dairy herd increased to 60 cows by 1990 and is now 120.  He terminated the liquid milk sales when Scottish Milk Marketing Board was abolished in 1994, refusing to enter the open market for milk that ensued.  All the milk then went for cheese making on the farm.
This farm house cheese operation has various special features
- the healthy image of island cows eating organic grass
- the production of “whole milk” going directly into cheese made in the farm
- the use of unpasteurised milk with its special taste
- modern cheese making equipment
- environmentally friendly operation with island energy, wood and hydro for power
- long 15 month maturation in own cheese cellars

All the milk from the 120 cows is transferred directly from the milking parlour to the adjoining cheese plant building.  Cheese is now made on 4 days a week.  New cheese making facilities were introduced in 2001.  95% of the production is in 25kg truckles and cloth bound.  Various other small sizes are made for the visitor market, both cloth bound and encased in wax, some with additional flavours.  After production the cheese is taken to one of the 4 cellars where it is stored for 12-15 months.
30% of the cheese is sold in Scotland and 70% in England which includes some exports.
The farm has daily collection by chilled transport.
The cheese–making has become a tourist attraction and a guided tour is offered each day.  There is a visitors shop usually operated on an honesty box basis.  Some mail order is done.

The farm also offers 3 holiday cottages as a further link with tourism.
This is not a cottage industry; it is a substantial cheese-making operation.
It is a family farm and a family business.  The founders, Jeff and Chris are trying to reduce involvement.  Six family members are actually involved and there are 7 full time employees.  The flexibility of family members allows the business to cope with what is arduous work with long working days and tight time scales.  Jeff wants to gradual transfer of responsibilities to young family
The business has had public sector support and this has allowed them to proceed with investment to maintain growth.
It is a business that needs working capital as the long maturation time means that milk produced on the farm takes 15 months to leave the cellars and 18 months to bring in cash.

Evidence of success
Biological/biodiversity values:

Environmentally friendly operation with island energy, wood and hydro for power.  Unpasteurised Organic Cheese.

Visual impact and recreational value:

The family business has used the image of its Hebridean island location to achieve a premium in the market.  Located at the north of the island of Mull, 25miles from the vehicle ferry port of Oban on the mainland (45minute sail)

Cultural heritage:

Produces the only remaining traditional farmhouse cheese in the Hebrides.

Environmental impact:

Environmentally friendly operation with island energy, wood and hydro for power.  Positive impact is that a derelict farm has been renovated over the years into a successful cheese business.

They also maintain rural landscapes, by grassing cows.
The company promotes the Island through the product name.  ‘Isle of Mull Cheese’

Economic viability:

They’ve also offer guided tours on the farm, which include demonstrations on cheese making.  They have a 3 Holiday Cottages, they stress that this is not a cottage industry; it is a substantial cheese-making operation.  So for me this would confirm that the cheese business alone is sustainable alone.

The location is an important aspect of this project. It helps make it different from the many other farmhouse cheese makers in Britain. The special circumstances combining variable levels of liquid milk sales with the evolving cheese making operation were important to allow a smooth pattern of growth

Contact details:
Name: Jeff Reade
Organisation: Isle of Mull Cheese
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Completed on:
Date added: 8.9.2011  Hits: 211
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