Cheese production at Butlers follows the traditional methods and recipes handed down by our founders, Richard and Annie Butler, who started making cheese for the family on their Lancashire farm in 1932. We hold true to their principles, although the business has grown in the generations since. We have branched into new lines, such as our Blacksticks Blue branded cheese, which we launched in 2004. It is a new cheese made in an old-fashioned way - in a large number of small batches to maintain its character. Our 300-acre farm, near Preston, supplies 20% of the milk we use in cheese production. The rest comes from selected farms within a 10-mile radius. We cherry-pick our farmers on their attitude, and pay them more for milk than many. If they care about the product then there is a greater chance that we can do something good with what they supply. And the better the quality of the milk, the better the quality of cheese that can be made. We turn the milk into about 1,200 tonnes of cheese per year in 15 to 20 different varieties, including spreadable cheese. It is sold in Asda, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Waitrose as own-label and branded product. This has earned us the title of one of the biggest small suppliers in cheesemaking. Our ambition is not to be the biggest in the country, but to be the best. Cheesemaking is a labour of love and we do things that other people wouldn't because it costs too much money. We think it's those little things that deliver the extra quality. We know we can never compete at the cheap and cheerful end, so we have to look for speciality products and speciality milks. We've just added goats to the livestock and goats milk products are a growing area. In 2003, we bought the small Ravens Oak Dairy in Cheshire, which was about to end production. It was making a small amount of cow, ewe, goat and buffalo cheese but struggling to do anything with it. Retaining the existing staff, we have helped the business grow its output 10-fold in four years. There's a lot of growth in the specialist cheese sector at the moment, but also a lot of competition, so you have to do what you do well. We have a lot of good people who take pride in what they do and they are keen to make a difference. If you cut them down the middle they would have Butlers written right through them.

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