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Neals Yard Dairy

message posted 19-Mar-07 13:02:55
We opened on July 4th 1979 in Neal's Yard in Covent Garden. At the time, Neal's Yard Dairy was owned by Nicholas Saunders, who had already started a bakery and wholefoods warehouse in the yard and Monmouth Coffee Company on Monmouth Street.

Randolph Hodgson, had started work at the Dairy a couple of months earlier, helping with the initial set up. He helped research recipes and, after the Dairy opened, made greek-style yoghurts and fresh cheeses. After the first year, he had agreed to take over as the owner of the business.

At first, the Dairy only sold products they had made on the premises. In Randolph 's words:
"We didn't really know what we were doing and so we gave the customers
a taste of everything and asked them what they thought".
He realised early on that his customers' opinions were very valuable, and would help him improve his recipes.

After a year, the Dairy started to buy matured cheeses too. At first these came from a wholesaler and were difficult to sell. It was very different from selling something they'd made and knew all about. One day, a cheesemaker called Hilary Charnley sent a sample of Devon Garland to the Dairy. Intrigued and interested to talk to another cheesemaker, Randolph set off to visit her. She was able to direct him to other farms in the area who also made cheese, and, by the time Randolph returned to London , he had filled the car with cheese to sell in the shop.

Fired with enthusiasm and information from the cheesemakers themselves, Randolph found these cheeses much easier to sell. He made more visits to other parts of the country, met more cheesemakers and started to sell more types of cheese. He learned about variation between batches and how important it was to select those with the flavours he liked best. He also learned that having selected the best cheese he could find, it was very important to store them properly and sell them when they tasted at their best. And finally, it was important to ask the customers what they thought. On his next visit, Randolph would report their opinions back to the cheesemakers, which has proved to be very valuable feedback. In the case of cheddar-makers, for example, the cheese could be 6 months older on the shop counter than when it had left the farm, and taste quite different.

In the mid 1980s, there was no longer enough space to make cheeses and mature cheeses in the same building. The cheesemaking side became a separate company, Neal's Yard Creamery, and moved out first to Kent and later to Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire where Charlie Westhead runs it today. Following that, the Dairy itself moved out of Neal's Yard, round the corner onto Shorts Gardens in 1992. Four years later, Neal's Yard Dairy set up a warehouse in a venerable red brick building in Borough Market. Borough Market had been the site of a food market since the Roman times and with the input of Randolph and a couple of other wholesalers in the area, the Borough Food Market was set up. At first, it consisted of warehouse open days, then monthly markets and now the market is held every Friday and Saturday and has become known as the best destination for food shopping in London .

Today, the Dairy has 2 retail shops, supplies other shops and restaurants across the UK and exports across the world.

17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden,
London WC2H 9UP
Tel +44 (0)20 7240 5700
Mon-Thurs 11am to 6.30pm
Fri-Sat 10am to 6.30pm

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