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Randolph and David hoist the cheese sign into place above our shop in Covent Garden.

About Us

For more than 40 years, Neal’s Yard Dairy has been home to those cheeses made in Britain and Ireland that we believe to be the very best. Some are 'territorial' cheeses that have been produced in the same way for centuries, reflecting the unique climate and culture of their home region: Cheshire, Lancashire, Caerphilly, Red Leicester and many more. Others channel the tastes and inventiveness of their makers, often taking inspiration from the cheesemaking traditions of other parts of Europe.

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NEAL'S YARD STORY
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About Neal’s Yard Dairy

Neal’s Yard Dairy sells the very best British and Irish cheeses. But our involvement with cheese goes far beyond just selling it. The displays you see in our shops and on this website are part of a long and involved process – one that demands of us a deep understanding of the art and science of cheesemaking.

We currently work with about 40 cheesemakers from around the British Isles. While varying significantly in their backgrounds and personalities, what all of them share is a commitment to a slow, hands-on approach to cheesemaking. This commitment is driven not by some misguided sense of nostalgia – indeed, many of them embrace the accuracy and control provided by modern technology, often in parallel with more traditional methods – but by the belief that a cheesemaker’s skilful...

We currently work with about 40 cheesemakers from around the British Isles. While varying significantly in their backgrounds and personalities, what all of them share is a commitment to a slow, hands-on approach to cheesemaking. This commitment is driven not by some misguided sense of nostalgia – indeed, many of them embrace the accuracy and control provided by modern technology, often in parallel with more traditional methods – but by the belief that a cheesemaker’s skilful interventions will result in a quality and character unmatched by more industrialised forms of production. Many of them use milk produced by their own animals, others buy it from neighbouring farmers; all of it is fresh and richly flavoured, most of it is left unpasteurised.    

We visit each of these cheesemakers on a regular basis to taste their cheeses and select the ones we want to mature and sell. Unlike industrially-produced cheese, every batch of which is engineered to look and taste exactly the same, farmhouses cheeses emerge from the dairy each day with subtle – and sometimes significant – differences in character, resulting from variations in the milk, the environment and the bacterial culture. We select only those individual 'vintages' that hold the greatest potential to achieve our favoured profile.

Over time, a cheese can change significantly, depending on how it is treated. At our maturing facility in Bermondsey, we use a range of manual interventions and environmental controls as we strive to bring each one of our chosen cheeses to what we believe to be its ideal state, constantly assessing its taste, smell and touch to determine its readiness.

Because each cheese is unique, and because different people have different preferences, our attention turns to directing the right cheeses into the hands of the right customers, through our three London shops, an online shop and our extensive UK and international wholesale trade. When you buy cheese from us, whether on behalf of a food hall or restaurant or for a family meal, we encourage you to taste it, savour it and tell us what you think. This long collaborative process doesn’t end with us selling you the cheese – it ends with you eating it.

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History

Neal’s Yard Dairy was founded in 1979 by Randolph Hodgson, a keen but inexperienced cheesemaker, in a small shop tucked away in what had previously been a derelict corner of London’s Covent Garden – the eponymous Neal’s Yard. With its wholefoods store and coffee roastery, Neal’s Yard would soon become a popular destination for food lovers, including farmhouse cheesemakers who would call in at Neal’s Yard Dairy, which in those early days was making and selli...

Neal’s Yard Dairy was founded in 1979 by Randolph Hodgson, a keen but inexperienced cheesemaker, in a small shop tucked away in what had previously been a derelict corner of London’s Covent Garden – the eponymous Neal’s Yard. With its wholefoods store and coffee roastery, Neal’s Yard would soon become a popular destination for food lovers, including farmhouse cheesemakers who would call in at Neal’s Yard Dairy, which in those early days was making and selling Greek-style yoghurt, creme fraiche and a couple of cheeses. Randolph began visiting their farms, learning about their work and bringing some of their cheeses back to his shop – one of the few places in the country that would offer them an outlet. As his immersion into this small community of British cheesemakers deepened, Neal’s Yard Dairy offered a route for Randolph to share with world those cheeses he fell in love with that were otherwise being neglected. 

In 2015, Randolph won the lifetime achievement prize at the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Here, in an article from The Guardian, Sheila Dillon, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, explains why: Read Article

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Randolph in the doorway of the original Neal's Yard Dairy shop in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, London.

An early draft of a hand drawn map created to show the new location of the shop when it moved from Neal's Yard, around the corner to 17 Shorts Gardens.

Neal's Yard Story

Neal’s Yard owes its name to Thomas Neale, who in 1690 received a piece of land from William III and created the Seven Dials area in which it is situated. By the mid-1970s, Neal’s Yard was a dark, derelict yard with a few fruit and veg warehouses, a place too insignificant to appear on the London A-to-Z. In 1976, Nicholas Saunders started the Whole Food Warehouse, and his entrepreneurial skills turned this neglected space into the thriving, characterful location. This is an extrac...

Neal’s Yard owes its name to Thomas Neale, who in 1690 received a piece of land from William III and created the Seven Dials area in which it is situated. By the mid-1970s, Neal’s Yard was a dark, derelict yard with a few fruit and veg warehouses, a place too insignificant to appear on the London A-to-Z. In 1976, Nicholas Saunders started the Whole Food Warehouse, and his entrepreneurial skills turned this neglected space into the thriving, characterful location. This is an extract from his account of that time, written in the 1980s. 

“I spent the early 1970s producing alternative guidebooks, ending with Alternative England and Wales, which I researched by travelling around the country in a large van converted into an office/bedsit. By the summer of 1975 the book was finished and I spent most of the next year in Christiania, a large community in Denmark. Every few weeks I would travel back to London to pick up a load of nuts, beans and other wholefoods, which were so much cheaper here that they paid for the trip. That’s is how I got involved with selling wholefoods.

A few years before, I had been looking for somewhere to live in the rundown parts of Soho and Covent Garden and was amazed to find 2 Neal’s Yard for sale at £7,000 – the snag being that the area was scheduled for redevelopment. I thought that, by living there, I could help save the area from demolition. In fact I was refused planning permission to live there, so had to find some use for the building. I decided to start a wholefood shop – one that was cheap, efficient and would not make customers feel bad if they couldn’t recognise a mung bean. Everyone said it was a crazy place to start a food shop. At that time, the buildings looked derelict, with windows broken or boarded up. Neal’s Yard was a filthy backyard over-run by rats and used by tramps as a lavatory.

My plan was just to get the shop started, then leave it to an old friend to run, as my long term plan was to go off and set up a village community based on the lessons I had learned through living in Christiania. I started converting the building with amateur help. After three months’ work the shop was finished and it opened on 1st November 1976. Although it was fitted out very cheaply using materials from demolition sites, it looked refreshingly original and simple – heavy shelves loaded with large clear plastic bags full of beans of various colours with the price written on by hand. All the food was packed on the first floor and was hoisted up on the human counterweight principle – one person would attach the load, a second would jump out of the window holding the rope coming down from the pulley, while the third would haul in the load. It was hard work, but an exhilarating exercise in trust and awareness.

I invented a pricing system which reflected the work we put in, instead of a percentage mark-up. The result was that, except in small sizes of sticky goods, our prices were lower than anywhere else, and very much lower for large sizes of things like nuts, which were easy to pack. We filled a gap by offering by far the cheapest goods in the sizes between retail and wholesale – ideal for food co-ops and informal groups of people who bought in bulk to save money.

I set a target that I would take a break when our turnover reached £ 1,000 a day, and that took less than four months. There was no trick to our success. We were cheap and reliably well stocked and there were samples for tasting. There were no come-ons or other enticements to buy. Service was efficient but not subservient – my directive was that staff should help shy customers but not to give way to the demands of rude or pushy people, in fact we used to be equally rude back, to their surprise.

Jobs were rotated, from cleaning to dealing with the money, and I used to encourage responsibility by giving workers turns at managing the business, with authority to sign cheques – often without even knowing their surnames, which shocked the bank manager. The atmosphere was one of high energy, with no nonsense, and attracted an enthusiastic lot of workers. The business soon started to make a lot of money, so after nine months I divided up the profits among the workers and reduced the prices still further.

As Neal’s Yard developed, and other businesses moved in, it became a real social scene. My old idea of a village community manifested in the form of a community of small businesses, each one individual and free to go its own way. Many friendships formed, with several leading to marriage – the most dramatic being when Anita of the Coffee House [now Monmouth Coffee] married Randolph of Neal’s Yard Dairy. They held a sit down feast for everyone in the Yard – and symbolised their union by serving coffee ice-cream.

When it came for me to leave, I decided that I would do so with a bang. I invited everyone from the yard to the Canary Islands for a winter holiday in Lanzarote – 55 people in all, including some from Food for Thought, who were our best customers, and from Community, our best suppliers. I gave everyone a sort of ‘treasure island’ kit consisting of a map, a torch, a toy sunshade, a few sweets and a wallet containing real Spanish money. We took on the plane a marquee big enough for everyone to sleep in and we camped on the beach for a week.”

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