Dunking punters gave Ilchester pub landlord Ken Seaton the idea of making a cheese blended with beer, which he did in his back kitchen and served in the bar.
A Harrods buyer happened to call in at the pub, which was on the main route to Cornwall, for lunch one day. On tasting the product, he decided he wanted to sell it in the London store.
The 4oz pots weren’t a big seller at first. But teetotallers in a Welsh temperance society heard about the product and wrote to the Daily Mail calling for a boycott of the cheese.
The story sparked massive interest, and within two years business was booming. Seaton sold his pub, opened a factory and the Ilchester Cheese Company was born. Seaton has long since left, but the company now has a turnover of £20m, a cabinet full of awards and claims responsibility for initiating a blended cheese sector worth anything up to £80m a year, according to industry estimates.
Ilchester Cheese now has hundreds of products, all still produced in Ilchester, Somerset. All the major multiples take its branded products, except Asda, which Ilchester Cheese MD Melvin Glynn says buys its non-branded blends. One third of production goes for export.
A management team took over the company in December 2004, enabling the long-serving team to secure independence.
Ilchester has always had an experimental streak, says Glynn. “Our NPD department is constantly pushing the boundaries, trying exotic fruits with different types of cheese to find the right combination. The next great flavour is just around the corner.”