THE Courtyard Dairy near Settle is celebrating after picking up a prestigious ‘golden fork’ in the annual Great Taste awards in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus crisis to keep the business going, and support the cheese making community.

Owners Andy and Kathy Swinscoe were up against a record more than 2,700 entries from 106 countries for the Guild of Fine Food awards, which this year was held online. Billed as the ‘world’s most trusted food and drink awards’, this year producers saw producers from across the world, including Greece, Japan, the United States and Vietnam enter for a chance to win categories including ‘best imported food’, ‘ambient product of the year’ and a ‘golden fork’ for each area of the UK.

Andy and Kathy were delighted to win the ‘contribution to fine food’ award. “I never thought that we’d receive a Golden Fork award,” said Andy. “And to receive the award for the Contribution to Fine Food is fantastic recognition from within the industry. It’s a very prestigious award, and for us to be ranked alongside the amazing past winners is a great honour”.

Kathy added: “It is testament to the great cheese-makers, and our staff who have been behind us every step of the way, that we have all been able to pull together to manage through this crisis and keep British farmhouse cheese alive.

“We’re delighted to have been singled out for acknowledgement in this way – the award will take pride of place in the shop”.

The pair have championed British artisan cheese since they first opened the doors of the Courtyard Dairy, on the A65 on the way to Settle, in 2012.

They say a dramatic collapse of the farmhouse cheese industry’s major supply chain from the start of the coronavirus crisis in March, with the closure of pubs, restaurants and hotels, saw many producers losing the majority of their business overnight. It looked like many farm cheese-makers would struggle to survive.

Andy and Kathy quickly altered their business in days and teamed up with other cheesemongers and makers nationally to promote the plight of some of Britain’s best cheeses.

They converted their café and cheese museum into extra packing space in order to fulfil the online orders that would keep cheese-makers in business, redeploying their 12 staff to accommodate the sudden shift.

Innovations included a wooden vending shack in the car park, dispensing hot coffee to those queueing and cheese to those who wanted to collect purchases with a contactless system, and the installation of a van selling toasties and ‘raclettes’ - a cheese wheel - , which could be eaten in standalone ski gondola lifts.

And, by providing a vital route to market for cheese-makers and those in the food and drink world more widely, they kept makers in business, animals in the fields and tons of artisan of cheese from being wasted.

The award was presented to Kathy and Andy by Nigel Barden, for the Guild of Fine Food, at the virtual ceremony towards the end of last month.

He said that he “saluted them for finding time to fly the flag for British cheese across social media and in the press, and contributing greatly to the survival of many of Britain’s most celebrated artisan cheeses.”

Now, with the second national lockdown, The Courtyard Dairy has had to innovate once again and has started up interactive cheese tastings online where where people get a box of cheese delivered before being guided through the cheeses by expert cheesemonger Andy

“Within the first lockdown the business for farmhouse cheese crashed, but thanks to a concerted effort of cheesemongers, celebrity chefs and cheesemakers, we managed to maintain highlight the issues and keep cheesemakers farmers going via mail order albeit on a much reduced scale. I think this time it is going to be more difficult - but these zoom cheese tastings certainly help - they now account for 25 per cent of cheese sold”