You could say it’s been a bit busy down at Long Clawson Dairy for the last few weeks.
Staff at the 107-year-old business have been churning out cheese for the Christmas market.
Almost one-third of total sales for the year are made in December with their award-winning Stilton in huge demand.
Kim Kettle, the dairy’s production and quality director, told the Melton Times: “It is a very important time of the year for us because we do about 27 per cent of our total annual sales in December.
“To put that into context, it represents about 240,000 whole 8kg Stilton cheeses, and its all to serve the Christmas sales market.”
Milk for the cheese is supplied by 43 dairy farmers within 25 miles of the dairy, with many of them based in the Vale of Belvoir.
Deliveries of 58 million litres are taken every year to fuel the cheese production.
There were concerns earlier in the year that the long hot summer was causing farms to use all their fodder early, and that milk production could be adversely affected.
But that hasn’t transpired, and the dairy has been able to service not just the busy UK market but the rising demand for its cheeses from abroad.
A recent multi-million-pound expansion and upgrade of the site, which has been in operation since 1911, has helped the business move forward.
“The new building was up and running just before Christmas and the last year has allowed us to use it to full capacity in the run-up to Christmas,” said Mr Kettle.
“We have other plans to modernise the site even further over the next two to three years, which will help with the increasing export market.
“We do big sales early in November to America as they prepare for the big Thanksgiving holiday.
“And we also now do big exports of Stilton to Australia.”
Long Clawson Dairy’s history has a link with local farmers all the way back to its origins at the start of the 20th century.
A founding member, Thomas Hoe Stevenson, ran Mount Pleasant Farm, near Melton, with his two sisters, who produced Stilton in a room adjoining the main farmhouse.
To ensure the cheese would continue to be produced for generations to come, he sought the opinion of local farmers for the development of a dairy.
Thomas quickly acquired 11 partners and they bought an empty old pub called The Royal Oak in the village.
The dairy’s head office still operates from the building today and Thomas Hoe Stevenson’s name lives on as the name of the company’s premium brand.
The latter includes Aged Blue Stilton, Blue Shropshire, Leicestershire Red and the Mild and Creamy Smooth Blue, which are all only available online and in selected delicatessen stores.
Today, the firm also makes Rutland Red, fruit blends such as Blueberry Fayre and Lemon Zest, as well as savoury blends like Cotswold, Innkeeper’s Choice and Flaming Pepper.
But, it is the production of the Stiltons and other blue cheeses which most people associate with the dairy, as they continue to win awards and attract demand from consumers at home and abroad.
Mr Kettle said: “The time it takes to make each cheese does vary depending on what the customer wants.
“Some like a less intense younger Stilton which takes around 10 weeks to produce.
“And others prefer a mature Stilton which can take typically about 14 to 16 weeks to make.”
Staff are given a little cash bonus for Christmas although they don’t get any cheese freebies.
Mr Kettle added: “We have a very loyal core staff here.
“Some people come and go, but people are generally very loyal.
“It’s important that we have this core because they need to be able to pass these skills on to our next generation of cheese-makers.”