ENTREPRENEUR Simon Raine has seen his business mature nicely since he launched his cheese-making company in the unlikely setting of a former prisoner of war camp.

The inspiration for Weardale Cheese can be traced back to Simon’s father, Ken, who worked for the Milk Marketing Board and National Dairy Council.

“It’s all me Dad’s fault – I was force-fed yoghurt and cheese,” laughs Simon, who grew up in St Helen Auckland and now lives in Hamsterley.

After studying economics and economic history at Newcastle University, Simon joined Northern Dairies, starting with delivering milk and working his way up through the ranks.

From there, he spent 20 years as the managing director of a York-based company responsible for distributing telephone directories and the Yellow Pages. However, when the digital age brought that to an end, Simon decided to become a cheese maker.

“I’d always hankered after a return to the dairy industry and there was a gap in the market because Teesdale had a cheese and Swaledale had a cheese but Weardale had never had a cheese named after it,” he recalls.

The company name was registered and, through a family connection, the old POW camp at Harperley, near Crook, became its production base.

The business was launched in January 2015 and Simon sold his first cheese – appropriately named St Cuthbert’s – at the St Cuthbert’s Day Fair at Durham Cathedral.

It was the beginning of a success story that has seen Weardale Cheese become a flagbearer of the County Durham food sector. 

Simon makes all the cheese – roughly 100kg a week, using 1,000 litres of milk from a neighbouring farm – but he’s quick to acknowledge the vital supporting role played by his wife, Julie.

The original Weardale Cheese is described as “a firm, white cheese that’s light and tangy when young, and rounded and smooth when mature”. 

Other products in the Weardale Cheese range now include:
• Prince Bishop – a blue version of Weardale Cheese;
• St Cuthbert – a lightly blue, semi-soft;
• Brie de Weardale – a semi-soft white;
• Bonny Moor Hen – a smoked version of Weardale, named after the Dale’s description of the red grouse;
• Weardale Nettle – the original Weardale Cheese, but with dried nettles added;
• A Spanish-inspired Diablo Weardale, with smoked paprika and chili flakes.

Weardale Cheese products are sold through outlets across the North-East, including farm shops, restaurants and pubs. Farmers’ markets and food festivals are a direct source of sales and, having been a regular at Bishop Auckland Food Festival, Simon is now looking forward to attending the Seaham Food Festival.

“Based on the experiences at the Bishop Auckland festival, I have every confidence that Seaham will be a success,” he says. “I just love to support my home county using local food to improve County Durham’s economy – it gives me a nice warm glow.”