From war torn Syria to Sowerby Bridge - the inspiring story behind Yorkshire "Squeaky" Cheese!
Whilst exhibiting at The Great White Food Festival in Harrogate, I managed to get the chance to wander around the other stands and chat to some of Yorkshire’s great independent food producers.
One of the stands I visited was Yorkshire Dama Cheese which I had seen featured on the Hairy Bikers Go North. Whilst chatting to the founder Razan Alsous about the great cheeses and butters she made, I was also fascinated to hear the fascinating backstory behind her business.
She explained that she arrived in the UK from Syria in 2012 with her husband and young children to avoid the war that was raging. When they arrived they had lost almost everything but the UK was a safe haven for their children and they decided to start their new life in Yorkshire.
Even though Razan had a pharmacy degree and scientific background – she could not find work in the UK because of a lack of references and work history. She started to look at other options and this is where the idea of making cheese started.
Razan was used to eating a Syrian squeaky style cheese for breakfast before arriving in the UK. She tried various halloumi style cheeses from local supermarkets but could not find anything as good as she remembered from back home. It was due to this that an idea was born. Why not make her own cheese!
She explains that there were a number of factors which were in her favour. Her strong microbiological experiences at the Medical Institute in Syria, the fact that she had noted the great quality of the local Yorkshire milk and her husband was an engineer who had run his own business back in Syria but had experience with supplying production lines for food companies. As she investigated further she found the UK Government very supportive with some grants for new start-ups.
With a Local Enterprise Agency grant of £2,500 and using ice cream making equipment which had been modified by her husband they started making cheese in 2014.
The rest of the story is one of success. As squeaky cheeses started becoming trendy in the UK with halloumi fries becoming a favourite in restaurants and grilled halloumi seen as a healthy option in pittas with salad or BBQ'd, their Yorkshire Dama Cheese company grew. Eventually moving to a larger production unit in 2017 which was honoured by HRH The Princess Royal opening the unit.
So onto the cheeses...
Their Squeaky cheese range has won a number of awards and is made from British fresh milk. It is low in carbohydrates, rich in calcium and a good source of protein and can be grilled, fried or BBQ’d.
On the stand I sampled some chilli halloumi rolls. They were delicious. Spicy grated halloumi cheese mixed with onion seed In a filo pastry roll. I also bought some of the cheese to sample because Halloumi wraps are a big favourite in my family. I was intrigued by the flavoured versions as I usually had to add extra bite to supermarket bought halloumi with lashings of siracha sauce. I tried the Smoked Squeaky Cheese and also the basic original versions.
Both were great and far more flavoursome that other halloumis, they also held their shape better than supermarket versions when cut to grill as opposed to falling apart like some other brands.
Other flavours which Razan makes include zatar, chilli, cool mint, rosemary and black onion seed. They also made a goats milk halloumi which I bought but am yet to try.
I also purchased some Labneh. This is a spreadable yoghurt which they have started to make. It is made by pressing yoghurt (basically milk, live culture and salt) and it makes a cream cheese type spread. It is sold as the “healthy alternative” to cream cheese and can be eaten spread on bagels, to make a cheesecake or to create a pasta sauce.
Razan has now gone onto making a ghee often used in Indian cookery. Their ghee is a clarified butter but can be eaten by people who were lactose intolerant. They have recently just launched a butter too.
They also sell a yoghurt as well as a ricotta, matured yoghurt balls and packs of halloumi fries and rolls.
The Yorkshire Dama Cheese company continues to grow and Razan has featured on many TV shows including appearing with James Martin, Nadya Hussein and Pru Leith as well as the Hairy Bikers.
They have also won many awards for innovation and their great produce. It was great to meet Razan and hear her story and sample her cheese products at first hand. I can definitely recommend them.
You can find more about Razan and her cheeses by visiting https://yorkshiredamacheese.co.uk
There is also an online shop if you fancy sampling the products made by this inspiring lady.
Just some of their wards are listed below: