Hartington Cheese Factory as it is locally known, is located in the small village of Hartington, Derbyshire. It is famous for producing Blue Stilton cheese as well as Shropshire Blue and Dovedale cheeses but originally produced a mild white crumbly cheese.
The cheese making process was until the industrial revolution a cottage industry. It was made at dairy farms up and down the country in small quantities by today's standards with the excess sold at local markets. These cheeses would be stored in a cool place such as the cellar. The Peak District was different, the hard limestone making cellars difficult to construct, a luxury few could afford. The cheese would be stored in the lofts above the kitchen or dairy. Commercial or cooperative cheese production in Derbyshire was started by William Gilman from Sheen near Hartington. He specialised in making a 40lb Derbyshire cheese, which incidentally won first prize at an international exhibition in London. Gilman is credited with establishing the first English purpose built cheese factory at Longford in 1870. Many were quick to follow including the Duke of Devonshire.
The Hartington Creamery was built by the Duke of Devonshire in the mid 1870's to produce the Derbyshire specialty, a white crumbly mild cheese but it was a short lived enterprise, a fire partially destroyed the buildings in 1894. These buildings stood empty and abandoned for six years until Thomas Nuttall, a prize winning Stilton cheese maker from Melton Mowbray began producing Blue Stilton at the factory. Blue Stilton was accidentally discovered at Melton Mowbray in a damp and mouldy vaulted cellar. The cellar was being colonized by a blue green mould, a bacterial fungus known as Penicillium Glaucum, and it finally made its way into the cheese, the white crumbly cheese providing a good environment for the mould to grow. This was tested and found to be more flavourful than the plan white cheese. It was sold on a trial basis at a coaching inn in the village of Stilton which is where it takes its name from.
John M. Nuttall expanded the business and in the 1920's obtained a Royal Warrant to supply Blue Stilton to King George V and it became known as The Kings Stilton. Because of this the cheese became world famous and the demand increased. John also obtained a Certification Trade Mark which confined the legal production of Blue Stilton to the three neighbouring counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Expansion and progress in the fast growing urban townships made it much more profitable for farmers to supply milk to these towns rather than the cheese factories which forced many to close. It was left to six factories to produce Blue Stilton, the Hartington Creamery was the only one left in Derbyshire. The factory was taken over by Dairy Crest in the 1980's and extensively redeveloped employing a workforce of about 140 people to convert over 70,000 litres of milk per day into cheese.
Dairy Crest sold the Hartington factory to the Long Clawson Dairy Company in 2009 who promptly closed the factory and associated shop. The shop was acquired by two local families and reopened.
The factory site is being considered for redevelopment, plans include a new village cemetery, housing and a playground.