Tideswell's dairy of delights - a visit to Peak District Dairy
PUBLISHED: 09:46 17 May 2016 | UPDATED: 09:46 17 May 2016
Derbyshire Life visits Peak District Dairy at Heathy Grange, Tideswell
At over 1,000 feet above sea level, the elevated and rolling limestone hills of the White Peak offer perfect rich pasture for dairy farming. Here mile upon mile of painstakingly handcrafted drystone walls enclose well-drained fields that from spring until autumn feature a landscape dotted with black and white cows. These Derbyshire hill farms have been feeding the nation with dairy produce for centuries.
With a family history of farming dating back several generations, Richard and Sue Walker are long established Peak District farmers. In 1994 they relocated their farm from South View, Tideswell, to a green field site nearby, allowing them to create a modern house and farmyard. Heathy Grange was designed to be efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible, from its state-of-the-art milking parlour to modern sheds and cattle houses where rainwater is collected and given to the cows. The move also allowed them to increase their herd of Holstein, Friesian and a few Brown Swiss cows and calves from 80 to 400 head.
The early days of Heathy Grange were all about milk production, enough to support a few local deliveries with any surplus sent off by tanker to what was then the Milk Marque. In 1999 Richard and Sue’s son Robert took over the milk processing side of the business and, as well as doorstep deliveries, began selling milk wholesale to shops, schools, hotels and guest houses. They also supplied it to Buxton’s University campus at the famous Dome where it is used in the kitchens of the renowned catering college. In June 2008 the milk tanker made its last collection and every drop milked is now processed on site.
Robert has a passion for everything dairy. There’s even a rumour that he actually has milk running through his veins! He is the powerhouse behind Peak District Dairy Limited and is keen to expand their list of Derbyshire and Peak District stockists even further, with no minimum order necessary.
By 2000 the dairy had added cream and butter to its list of produce and decided to have a go at making yoghurt. It was so good that it was judged the champion in its category at the Great Yorkshire Show, but producing it in bulk proved labour intensive and unprofitable, so attention was switched to ice cream – although they remain agents for Longley Farm yoghurts, so can still supply customers.
Moving forward another couple of years and cheese had been introduced to the delivery rounds. Customers could also add potatoes from a farm in nearby Wormhill, locally made Derbyshire oatcakes and bottled water from the National Forest, to their daily deliveries.
The addition of hen houses in a field next to the busy farmyard then meant free range eggs were added to the sales list. Heathy Grange hens have freedom to roam all around the farm and yard.
Robert declares that he likes the ice cream side of the business the most and even has his own personal van, with a choice of 64 jingles. Peak District Dairy’s ice cream vans or trailers can be hired for events or special occasions, with weddings proving especially popular.
‘A Hope Valley resident recently celebrated a milestone birthday with a party,’ he said. ‘His wife had arranged a surprise for dessert and timed it so that the ice cream van arrived at their door playing an appropriate jingle along the way.’
The origin of ice cream dates back thousands of years. Ancient Greeks are known to have enjoyed an ice cream type food around the 5th century BC whilst frozen milk and rice was being served up in China some 300 years later. In England, Charles I reputedly ate what he described as ‘frozen snow’ at some time in the 17th century but recipes for ice cream did not appear until the early 18th century.
The first ice cream stand is said to have appeared outside Charing Cross Station in 1851 when Carlo Gatti, a Swiss man by birth, sold scoops of ice cream in shells for one penny each. The famous ice cream cone was a later invention that we use to this day. When refrigerators with freezer compartments became affordable in the second half of the 20th century the sale of ice cream escalated and popular desserts such as the strangely named Knickerbocker Glory appeared on menus. Anyone who can remember the delight of visiting an ice cream parlour in the 1950s and early 60s is sure to be thrilled by their reappearance in recent years.
Peak District Dairy currently offers a choice of 18 different flavours in sizes from 120ml pots to 500ml, 1 litre and 5 litre containers. Robert’s latest speciality are dual pots – marbled effect ice creams that are made by piping two flavours together, perfect for banana and toffee or fruit salad. ‘I’ve had some funny requests for new flavours over the years,’ said Robert. ‘Rice Pudding, Chocolate & Chilli and even Bacon & Eggs, but for any flavour to be financially viable we have to make a large batch at a time and I don’t think any of these would be popular enough to sell in large quantities.’
The Dairy’s refrigerated fleet comprises 19 delivery vehicles, including four trailers and nine ice cream vans with the distinctive MOO or COW number plates. They can be seen throughout the summer at various locations such as Bakewell Park, Surprise View, the Goyt Valley, Miller’s Dale Station and Belper.
On the payroll are 12 employees and four self-employed workers with two Derby University apprentices in the pipeline. In the office Donna Foster is in charge of doorstep deliveries while her sister Kirsty Bown handles commercial sales and marketing. The girls work hard to build up a good rapport with customers and are keen to help new stockists improve their businesses. Kirsty has been working with many customers old and new across the Peak District, helping to introduce new products and expand their Peak District Dairy range.
Heathy Grange is a convenient short stroll from the village of Tideswell and locals regularly call in for provisions. ‘Frank, who is in his 80s, pops up to see us a couple of times a week. He buys a bottle of milk, has a chat and gives us both a toffee before he leaves,’ Donna said with a smile.
‘Although we don’t have a farm shop, customers are welcome to call in occasionally at the yard. In the summer we sometimes get campers calling in for milk and fresh eggs. Last year a couple of women who’d been staying in a holiday let in the village walked up to fill their rucksacks with containers of ice cream before they left for home.’
Peak District Dairy has amassed a string of accreditations such as SALSA (standard for milk, cream, dairy products) and is a member of ICA (ice cream alliance). A box in their office is overflowing with certificates, shields and rosettes awarded from shows such as Bakewell, Harrogate, Nantwich, the Great Yorkshire Show and National Ice Cream Awards. It is one of the county’s biggest independent milk suppliers, generating 1,500 glass bottles of milk a day for doorstep deliveries, as well as milk in plastic containers, and producing in excess of 45,000 pints a week.
All the milk and dairy produce comes from Peak District Dairy’s own closed herd which numbers 400 cows and calves. Richard and his team milk an average of 200 cows at the same time twice a day, every day and all year around.
It is an enterprise of which the Walker family and the county can be justifiably proud. With so much milk being produced in this beautiful part of Derbyshire, it certainly adds new meaning to the term White Peak!
Facebook: Peak District Dairy
Heathy Grange office open weekdays 9.30am to 5.30pm. Telephone 01298 871786