The end of an iconic Kintyre product?

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By Hannah O’Hanlon

People across the world have reacted with sadness and anger that Campbeltown’s iconic Mull of Kintyre Cheddar is to stop production.

First Milk announced last Friday that it has begun consultations with 14 employees about its plan to close Campbeltown Creamery, the home of the extra mature cheese which is exported to countries across the world, after the Kintyre dairy farmers, who hoped to buy the factory, were unable to find a ‘financially viable long-term business plan’.

Despite considerable work involving a steering group, advisers, the Scottish Government and staff at the creamery, as well as a crowdfunding campaign to which more than 1,000 people pledged more than £80,000, the farmers were unable to gain enough retail support to bring their plan to fruition.

A First Milk spokesperson told the Courier this week that it will continue to own the creamery’s associated brands and while it will fulfil its obligations to existing customers as far as possible, it has no plans to manufacture Mull of Kintyre-branded cheese at any of its other sites.

The spokesperson added: ‘We are committed to meaningful employee consultation, which will take as long as it takes, but we envisage this being weeks. If no alternative comes out during the consultation process, we are proposing that the site will close at the end of the consultation process.’

Ailsa De Haas-McGeachy, a Campbeltown native who moved to the Netherlands 42 years ago, said: ‘This is such sad news for the town, for the workers, farmers and, of course, all the customers all over the world that love Mull of Kintyre cheese, including me.

‘It is unbelievable that such an award-winning cheese is going to be extinct soon. I’m both angry and sad this is happening.’

Ailsa told the Courier that she buys supplies of the cheese when she visits Campbeltown four to five times a year and ‘doesn’t know how she’ll survive’ without it.

Linda McLean of Kilmaho Farm who once worked promoting Mull of Kintyre Cheddar and owns The Kintyre Larder told the Courier: ‘It’s devastating. The whole reason we opened the shop was to make the cheese more available in Campbeltown and to showcase it in our centre.

‘It’s such an iconic local product. It’s sad that generations and generations of cheese makers and workers will all be lost.

‘The crowdfunding page, with pledges from all over the world, from people who might never have been to Campbeltown or the Mull of Kintyre, highlights the love that exists for the product.’

Linda said that she is trying to source as much of the cheese as she can, hoping to stock it for as long as possible, but said it is already selling quickly.

James Barbour, chairman of the Kintyre steering group, thanked people for their support and said: ‘It was the right thing to investigate all avenues to see if we could keep the creamery open in Kintyre.’

John Smith, NFUS dairy chairman and Kintyre dairy farmer, said: ‘My heart goes out to all the staff that work at the creamery and it is regrettable that the Mull of Kintyre brand that we have passionately supported will now no longer be available. That is due to the harsh, economic reality of processing milk in an incredibly tough dairy industry that has witnessed so many casualties at both farm and processing level in recent times.

‘While this is very disappointing news, it is reassuring that all of the local farmers are members of First Milk and will continue to benefit from being part of a national co-operative with an evergreen contract and continuing to have their milk collected in the future.’

Councillor John Armour described the news as ‘a devastating blow to Kintyre’. He added: ‘I welcome the news that local farmers will still have their milk collected by First Milk with no extra cost. This, at least, means that milk production can carry on and farmers can look into other ways of marketing their product in future.

‘I am so sorry for the hard-working staff in the creamery who have shown remarkable loyalty to their employers over many difficult years. For them to lose their jobs must be devastating and each and every one of them can leave with their heads held high for the hard work they have put in to producing an award-winning cheese in very trying times.’

Councillor Rory Colville added: ‘My sympathy goes out to those who may lose their employment, my respect to those who have fought so hard to keep the creamery open.

‘I once stated that milk is to Kintyre what oil is to Aberdeen, an industry that dates back to the earliest written records which creates wealth simply by harnessing the natural elements, with the vast majority of that wealth fed back into the local economy.

‘The loss of the creamery is demoralising, however should milk production ever cease in Kintyre then the knock-on effect to the local economy will be devastating.’