Award-winning goats' milk cheese makers Tom Wallis and his wife Tricia owe the origins of their thriving business to Labrador pups and their lactose-intolerant grandson.
Wallis's father-in-law bred Labradors as a hobby and started a boarding kennels on the six-acre site at Raywell, in east Yorkshire, 40 years ago. He also bought two goats, because the milk is good for rearing puppies.
In the mid-1990s the couple's grandson was found to be lactose-intolerant, and Wallis decided to apply to sell goats' milk legally as an approved dairy. During a holiday in Scotland, he saw goats' milk cheese being made, and he returned to the small West Highland Dairy, in Achmore, to learn how the process worked.
The Wallises now have a herd of 100 goats and, with no extra staff, turn 130 litres of milk into hand-made cheese every day, make 100 x 142g-pots of yoghurt per week and 70 litres of ice cream, as well as still running the kennels.
The couple also sell award-winning fresh and frozen raw and pasteurised goats' milk. While the farm isn't big enough to make organic status worthwhile, the goats are fed on locally grown, high-quality hay, and are treated homeopathically where possible. "We don't get asked about being organic," says Wallis. "People are more concerned about where the milk comes from and like to know they can come and have a look at the goats."
Their range of 11 varieties of mainly soft goats' milk cheeses, plain yoghurt and 15 flavoured ice creams are sold through farmers' markets, local delis, including Weetons in Harrogate, quality restaurants such as Harvey Nichols' in Leeds, in their own farm shop and on their website. The cheese took a bronze medal at the World Cheese Awards in 2003 and at the British Cheese Awards a year later. "All our outlets have come to us," said Wallis.
Clarence House requested a visit by the Duchess of Cornwall last February, and the royal visitor opened an extension to the dairy.
The couple plan to take on staff and increase production to keep pace with demand, while maintaining quality, but they favour small outlets over supermarkets.
"I would much rather supply top quality restaurants and delis up and down the country, and some restaurants have said they wouldn't deal with us if we were in retailers," said Wallis. "Besides, I don't think we would get the same price in supermarkets. We don't want to go down the mass production route; we would rather produce high-quality products to supply the best outlets."