British artisan cheese makers Shepherds Purse based in North Yorkshire have come under fire again for the name of their Yorkshire Fettle cheese, 12 years after the cheese was renamed due to the name Feta being awarded a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by the European Commission.
The PDO for Feta was granted in 2002, with Greece being awarded exclusive rights to the name Feta. The PDO was challenged by Denmark and Germany, ultimately unsuccessfully and in 2008 Shepherds Purse was forced to leave Feta in the past, re-naming their Mediterranean salad-style cheese ‘Yorkshire Fettle’, a well-known northern English word.
Yorkshire Fettle went on to win International Cheese Awards and has been stocked in Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose and served in restaurants across the UK.
After a successful ‘Save Our Sheep Milk’ campaign back in 2020, an initiative set out to protect their sheep milk collective throughout the pandemic which saw 20 out of 22 processors of sheep milk disappear, Shepherds Purse were named ‘Cheese Heroes of the Year’ at the Virtual Cheese Awards and, in turn, saw Fettle gain an increased presence across the nation.
Shepherds Purse were then featured on Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped alongside the famous cheese in question and on the popular Channel 5 show This Week On The Farm, following the campaign to save the sheep milk farmers.
Fettle has now attracted the attention of the Association of Greek Producers, SEVGAP, who believe that the use of Fettle breaches the protection afforded to Feta and have therefore demanded that Shepherds Purse cease using the name. Shepherds Purse disagree with SEVGAP’s position but do not have the resources to take on the Greek dairy industry and will, once again, rename their famous product.
Shepherds Purse Artisan Cheeses began in the late 1980s after Judy Bell MBE set out on a mission to create quality dairy alternatives for cow’s milk allergy sufferers.
Yorkshire Fettle, Yorkshire Feta at the time, was Judy’s very first cheese, produced in 1987 and launched as a product in 1989, going on to win international awards and even featuring on the likes of Paul Hollywood’s BBC One cooking programme Pies & Puds.
Shepherds Purse is now led by Judy’s two daughters, Katie Matten and Caroline Bell who continue the tradition of excellent cheesemaking, introducing new award-winning cheeses and employing a team of 35 on the family farm. Their world-class cheeses include the repeated World Cheese Awards winners Yorkshire Blue, Harrogate Blue and Mrs Bell’s Blue.
Speaking on the new PDO enforcement, Caroline Bell said: “It’s devastating to see our well-loved product go through this process once more after we believed it was resolved back in 2008. Whilst we agree whole heartedly with the spirit of PDO legislation, we don’t believe that our name breaches it. But we sit as a fringe case and sadly, as a small independent family business, our resources to fight it are limited, particularly after this exceptionally difficult period due to the pandemic.”
Sister, Katie Matten added: “After investing heavily in new equipment and new packaging during the pandemic to help support our sheep milk farmers, this has been a blow, especially given all the challenges of the pandemic. But we are keen to not let it set us back. It’s an exceptional product made from quality British sheep milk and we have over 30 years’ experience in making it. We will move forward positively despite this recent challenge.”
As customers wait in anticipation, Shepherds Purse Artisan Cheeses hope to launch their best-selling salad cheese with an exciting new name before the end of 2021.