Sale hopes dashed for historic Stilton producer

By Ben Bouckley and Anne Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cheese, Listeria monocytogenes

Sale hopes dashed for historic Stilton producer
The administrator of Quenby Hall Dairy has admitted defeat in its efforts to sell the business, which produced Stilton on a site where some of first examples of the cheese were made over 250 years ago.

The Leicestershire company had an annual turnover of around £1.8m and employed around 40 staff, until it ceased production and, shortly thereafter, entered administration on April 15.

A spokesman for administrator SFP told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the firm’s involvement with Quenby Hall Dairy was now at an end after no buyer came forward.

SFP said at an earlier date that the business had collapsed due to a £250,000 cash shortfall as it expanded production facilities.

Extremely difficult trading

Owner Freddie de Lisle was unavailable for comment on whether Quenby Hall would continue to market the business for sale.

But he said in a statement on April 25 announcing the end of production that trading conditions had been difficult, and had been “exacerbated by over-expansion”.

“The general economic outlook, the sharp and continuing rise in milk prices and the difficulty in achieving suitable gross margins all contributed to the decision​ [to call in administrators],"​ he said.

SFP initially expressed confidence in the likelihood of a sale for what joint administrator Simon Plant said was a business with “heritage and prestige”.

The dairy was one of only six permitted by law to make Stilton cheese under EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) rules, within the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

Listeria scare

Asked whether she was surprised that a buyer for Quenby had not been found, a spokeswoman for the Stilton Cheesemaker’s Association (SCMA) said:

”It seems surprising that a buyer has not been found, given Quenby Hall's award wins and rich history.

“It is open to anyone to set up a cheesemaking business in the three counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire, and in due course apply for a license to use the name ‘Stilton’.”

However, she said the fact that produce from Quenby Hall Dairy was the subject of a product recall in the US and Canada, due to the alleged presence of Listeria Monocytogenes​ in the product, “may well have put prospective buyers off”.

The spokeswoman said that no-one knows for sure where and by whom the first English Stilton was made.

One historian had identified Leicestershire cheesemaker Frances Pawlett in the early 1740s, she said, but it is unclear whether he produced the same type of cheese as Stilton.

Quenby Hall claims on its website that England’s first purpose-built dairy operated from 1759 on in its current site in Hungarton.

de Lisle established the existing dairy in 2005 to continue the tradition of his ancestors, after production originally stopped in the mid-1800s.

Related topics: Dairy

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