I have a heavy heart today as news reached me that our friend Steve who founded Yellison Farm sadly passed away on Christmas day. He had been unwell for a short while and bore his illness with great dignity and humour. I last spoke to Steve the Friday before Christmas when we talked about his missing Nubian maidens who were supposed to be helping to look after him.
Steve’s son Jonathan, to whom I spoke earlier today is continuing with the business, looking after the goats, feeding them, tending to them and cutting their hooves, not an easy task, until the new owners of Yellison Farm take over in a couple of month’s time. My thoughts and condolences go to Jonathan, his sister and the rest of his family.
Our old goat milk supplier, Jonathan Robertshaw introduced us as Steve’s goats were being a little tardy producing milk, so he bought some from us. Steve joked that he didn’t think his billy had done his job and he was having to show him what to do. He came up from his spot just outside Skipton in a huge car with a tonne of milk kits in the back. We had fun filling them. From that point, we became firm friends.
Steve started cheese production at Yellison Farm at about the same time I started to make cheese and as were both goat cheese makers, we had a fair bit in common, though Steve made soft cheeses where at that time, we made only hard cheese. Steve lived in a rambling farmhouse down an impossible one lane track, treacherous in winter, close to a collection of equally rambling buildings, including a large goat house and he created a small dairy. His goats were beautiful creatures and each had names. Steve very clearly loved his goats very much and one of my abiding memories of Steve is seeing him in his mucky blue overalls, big black wellies, a bobble-less hat with his glasses half way down his nose.
Steve was a talented chap with many strings to his bow: although he came from a farming family, he
became an engineer and ran a couple of very successful businesses before he ventured into the world of goats, goat milk and cheese. He also played in a band. I interviewed Steve as part of my Leeds Uni MSc studies which was about how small artisan cheese makers grow and remember him telling me his reasoning for going into goat farming; he was particularly concerned about children’s health and modern living, how so many had allergies including eczema and asthma and he strongly believed that if more people, especially children, drank goat milk and ate goat cheese, this may alleviate their symptoms.
Steve initially worked with band mate Harry whom he would refer to as George Clooney. Steve looked after the goats whilst Harry made the cheese: two main cheeses, a goat curd and a Scottish soft, spreadable cheese, Crowdie. Steve’s cheese found not just a local cult following but further afield too, used by Michelin chefs and is very well regarded, having won many awards.
An example of Steve’s graciousness and generosity to us, Ribblesdale Cheese, came this summer when Steve was unable to fulfill a customer’s orders and he referred us to his customer, saying that we may be able to help. The customer contacted us and that is why we started to make goat curd. I was initially worried about competing with Steve and we spoke at length about this. He said he didn’t mind us having ‘some of the business, but not all of it!’ I kept my word and we liaise with our mutual customer about quantities.
We would phone each other on a regular basis for gossipy catch ups and occasionally grab lunch: what was happening in the cheese world, how his goats were, his band, Custer’s Last Band and the gigs he had done, EHOs, the availability of goat milk and the state of the goat cheese world.
Although he always denied it, Steve was very photogenic, very personable and very good at getting to know people. He was the face of the Yorkshire Show a couple of years back and featured on Ade Edmondson’s programe, The Dales.
As Steve was such a larger than life and colourful but gentle man, everyone who knew him will have their own memories and stories of him. My running story with Steve is that we were going to escape to a Greek island together. Steve chose Kefalonia, where he would run a bar and I would run a dive school. We bickered about who would run the bar in the evenings.
Steve, you will be sorely missed by your friends, your family, your customers and a whole host of others. I shall miss you very much, knowing you did enrich my life as I am sure you touched the lives of many others too. Once again, my condolences go to his son Jonathan, his daughter and the rest of his family.