Wyke Farms: a history as rich as its cheddar
Richard Clothier, Managing Director of Wyke Farms, is a third-generation cheesemaker and guardian of the secret recipe – created by his grandmother Ivy’s family back in 1861 – to which the family business owes its success. We talk to him about how the business has grown and, like the West Country pastures that surround it, gone 100% green.
To say Richard Clothier lives and breathes cheese would be an understatement.
The Managing Director of Wyke Farms is a third-generation cheddar maker, and with over 150 years of cheesemaking know-how fuelling his business, it’s a subject he’s passionate about.
“If someone criticises my cheese, it’s worse than criticising the kids, because sometimes the kids deserve it – but the cheese is always perfect,” says Richard.
Like their award-winning cheddar, Wyke Farms’ history is rich and compelling. Richard’s family have been farming in Somerset, south-west England, for over 150 years and their world-class secret recipe was originally written down by their grandmother Ivy’s family in 1861. “The heritage and the tradition are a really important part of the Wyke Farms cheddar brand. It’s the thing that customers buy into all around the world,” explains Richard.
It is this – and the company’s association with the rolling, unspoilt pastures in the West Country –that draws in the customers. “It’s a beautiful part of the world and it has a very natural, clean and wholesome image when it comes to producing food”.
Since the company started expanding internationally in 1997, global interest in this little slice of the English countryside has skyrocketed. Catering to this is one of Richard’s favourite parts of the job.
If someone criticises my cheese, it’s worse than criticising the kids, because sometimes the kids deserve it – but the cheese is always perfect
“I think my predecessors would be really proud that we’re taking our cheddar to completely different parts of the world and seeing them really enjoy it,” says Richard. “I love it when I see French people eating our vintage cheddar and preferring it to their own cheese”.
Now, the Somerset-based family farm, just a few miles from Cheddar – the birthplace of the cheese – produces 18,000 tonnes of the cheese per year and ships to over 160 countries around the world, making it one of the biggest independent cheesemakers in the UK.
While the taste of the cheddar remains traditional, Richard’s outlook on business and sustainability is completely modern. And this is where Barclays comes in.
“My father started working with Barclays in the mid 1970s,” explains Richard. “They’ve always been there and they’ve helped us to innovate. One of the things we worked really well on together was developing our renewable energy business at a time when the technology was unproven.”
After securing planning for a green biogas plant in 2012, Richard went to Barclays seeking help with a loan. Costing £15m, the project – which would make Wyke Farms energy independent – was an expensive undertaking for a family business.
With Barclays’ help, Wyke Farms’ 100% Green Sustainable Energy Centre was launched in 2013 – and Wyke Farms became the first national cheddar brand to become fully energy efficient
I love it when I see French people eating our vintage cheddar and preferring it to their own cheese
“The Anaerobic Digestion Plant runs on waste from our own dairy, waste from the farms, and apple pomace from local cider mills, amongst other waste which is not fit for human or animal consumption” explains Richard. “One of the key benefits to the Sustainable Energy Centre is that it allows the business to be energy independent, so we’re not subject to the volatility of the world energy markets.”
While the company has continued to grow, Wyke Farms has managed to minimise the external resources it uses and protect the land to which its heritage owes so much – something Richard feels his forefathers would be proud of.
“My grandparents ran a business in a way where they produced everything that they needed locally. That’s one thing me and my brother are still focussed on.”“They also used to say that cheddar making was like a black art – because there are so many variables throughout the process. My brother and I have really tried to take out as many variables as we can do, to make the cheese as consistent as possible.”
‘Going green’ on such a grand scale, forging the family business into the future and making consistently good cheese requires one thing: a stable, reliable bank. That and stellar master cheese graders – whose noses are insured for over £5million.
On Wyke Farms’ relationship with Barclays, Richard says: “A good relationship is really important, as is the ability to be reactive to change. Businesses face challenges all the time – whether it’s Brexit, mechanisation or a shortage of labour – so it’s good to know we can rely on our lender.”
Steven Beavan, the Barclays Relationship Director who supported Wyke Farms’ plans for growth, expands on their long-term partnership:
“The future here at Wyke is extremely exciting, and we’re delighted at Barclays to support them as they continue to develop into new markets around the globe. We look forward to working with them for the next 150 years to support their business growth through the next few generations.”