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Kent Dairy Product of the Year Finalist: Cheesemakers of Canterbury

Jane Bowyer produced her first cheese as The Cheesemakers of Canterbury in May 2007 - the Ashmore Farmhouse Cheese. Previously the site had been used for production of fresh milks, cream and butter as Dargate Dairy, so it was a natural progression to refurbish the dairy and fulfil a demand in Kent for local cheeses.

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Jane Bowyer produced her first cheese as The Cheesemakers of Canterbury in May 2007 - the Ashmore Farmhouse Cheese. Previously the site had been used for production of fresh milks, cream and butter as Dargate Dairy, so it was a natural progression to refurbish the dairy and fulfil a demand in Kent for local cheeses.

Ashmore is made with unpasteurised cow's milk, so attention to detail and excellent hygiene is critical in the production as well as the top-quality milk from the dairy farmer at Petham, near Canterbury.

Since those early days the business has developed and taken on an additional dairy near Wye and now makes award-winning ccow's, goat's and sheep's cheeses of many types and have a cheese retail shop in The Goods Shed Canterbury. It is also now producing a Kent butter.

The majority of the milk and cream is sourced from Kent farms, with most of our cheeses being sold within Kent to independent shops, farm shops, restaurants and cafés.

The Cheesemakers of Canterbury has always tried to remain small and grow organically and sustainably. The main ethos has to be involving Kent regarding markets, events, festivals and dealing with our local customers and collaborating with other Kent businesses, for example Kent Crisps Ashmore cheese and onion crisps, Zingiberi Captains Crackers and Duskins Apple Juice.

It continues to maintain the quality of their products but still likes to experiment as with its wild garlic butter, using its own smoker for the Smoked Bowyers Brie and a burgeoning trade in chutneys, jellies, pickles and chilli jam launched by the cheese manager’s business, ‘Teresas Preserves

Since selling our first cheese in 2007 only one of its stats has not risen steadily: its food miles. Wedded to using only local products, and working in conjunction with others, it has flourished. Nothing has shone a stronger light on the thinking behind that approach than Covid and the consequent lockdowns.

Come lockdown, with local travel heavily restricted, and shipments of overseas cheeses disrupted by truck driver shortages and port delays, Cheesemakers of Canterbury’s ‘buy local, sell local’ philosophy became other producers' dream hope.

The milk was on their doorstep. So, too, were their customers - both retail and wholesale.

A small shop was at opened at the Dargate dairy, selling other Kentish products, and an online shop was begun, delivering to homes as a service piggybacking on the wholesale routes.

The main retail outlet, at The Goods Shed remained open, also offering home delivery services with all its fellow small food businesses.

And now things have eased we have the Staycationer phenomenon, bringing a new stream of visitors into Kent, many of them from the surrounding counties. For them, gifts of local cheeses to take back to friends and family have been markedly popular. These happy holiday souvenirs are examples of the best sort of soft diplomacy, spreading the experience of everything that Kent has to offer.

It’s nothing grand, but it is grounded in that simple belief that good local food is good in so many different ways.