Cheesemaker fights to help sheep milk farmers with fast track product relaunch

A North Yorkshire cheesemaker has fast tracked the launch of its new format feta-style cheese in a bid to help support its struggling sheep milk farmers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thirsk based, Shepherds Purse is set to launch its new format product, called “Fettle”, in 150g square blocks on May 4 2020 to coincide with the British Cheese Weekender on May 8-10; the first-of-its-kind collaborative project designed to showcase some of the country’s top cheeses with a series of free virtual events.

At the start of the coronavirus health crisis, family-run Shepherds Purse was in touch with its sheep milk farmers who were in a distressed state. Sheep milk has been disproportionately affected by the closure of foodservice and restaurants, resulting in sheep milk farmers losing 20 out of their 22 processors over the course of a few days. To offer a lifeline to the sheep milk farmers, Shepherds Purse has taken the risk of increasing its weekly milk order by 75% to help with the deficit and made the decision to bring forward the launch of its new format Fettle cheese as a result.

Caroline Bell, MD of Shepherds Purse said: “From the beginning of the crisis, we have been acutely aware of our place in the food chain and our responsibility to support our suppliers and our customers as much as possible. We rely on them and they rely on us. Every change in the supply chain and every gap has significant knock-on effects. We’re working hard for our cow’s milk and water buffalo milk suppliers too, but with this project we are working hard to counter the market distress for our sheep milk farmers, and we will need the support of retailers, and ultimately customers, to ensure its success.”

Yorkshire cheesemaker fights to help sheep milk farmers with fast track product relaunch


Fettle is Yorkshire’s version of feta, a Mediterranean salad style cheese handmade with whole ewes’ milk to give a piquant, lemony flavour and slightly crumbly texture. Ideal to try during the British Cheese Weekender, an initiative led by the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA), the Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food to raise awareness of the crisis and help shoppers connect with local cheesemakers and indie retailers.

Caroline Bell continued “It has taken a tremendous amount of work from our small team and our key partners to get this reformatted product ready for market so quickly. From making the extra cheese to designing and printing the labels and the outer case packaging, and extra design work for the campaign, it’s been incredible, I couldn’t be more proud of our team and our partners.

“It’s been essential that we have invested in and continue to support our sheep milk farmers so that they can survive this crisis by making this amazing Fettle cheese, and now we really need our retailers’ and customers’ support to achieve that final step – to get it onto customers’ plates. The extent to which we can continue to buy extra milk from the farmers to help to ensure their survival through this crisis, will depend on how much of this new Fettle, and our other cheeses, customers can buy and enjoy.”

Simon Stott of Sheep Milk UK said: “Any help we can get at the moment is vital and this new Fettle product is a big lifeline for us. Some of our farmers have already had to dry off due to the massive drop in demand, so the future of the British Sheep milk industry is still far from secure.”

Shepherds Purse is an award-winning artisan cheese company, making speciality cheese from the finest local cow’s milk, sheep milk and water buffalo milk. It was founded in 1989 after farmer’s wife, Judy Bell discovered her passion and talent for cheesemaking. More than 30 years later, the company has grown on the family farm. Now a team of 30, and run by the next generation, Judy’s daughters, Katie Matten and Caroline Bell, they make a range of 9 different cheeses, including Yorkshire Blue, Harrogate Blue, Mrs Bells Blue, Yorkshire Fettle and the new format Fettle.