Isle of Mull Cheese's Story

Taste of Place Trails Stories

Lily Reade is the third generation of her family farming cattle on Sgriob-ruadh Farm on Mull, the home of Isle of Mull Cheese. Her grandparents Jeff and Chris Reade bought the farm and moved to Mull from Somerset with their children in 1979, following Jeff’s life-long dream of living in Scotland. Lily’s dad, Brendan, is the eldest of four boys, and now runs the farm along with his brother Garth. Their brothers are still on the island, too, now with their own businesses – Matthew runs Calgary Arts while Joe, the youngest, runs the Island Bakery.

How it all started

The family brought ten cows with them, and capitalised on the absence of a regular fresh milk supply on the island to start up a milk round. In the summer months there would be a surplus of milk, as the cows are eating more grass and thus producing more, so Chris would use the excess to make cheese. In the early days the cheese was stored in the distillery bond store, but they quickly build their own purpose-built cheese store set into the side of a hill, which helps regulate moisture and temperature. By the year 2000, the demand for cheese had surpassed their supply of surplus milk, and they decided to focus all their efforts on making cheese.

Growing the local delicacy

Mull has a history of cheese making – traditionally hard cheeses, Lily tells me, as soft cheeses wouldn’t survive the long journeys to market on the mainland before refrigeration was widely available. Coming from Somerset, too – “cheddar country”, as Lily affectionately calls it – it made sense for the family’s cheese to build on both these traditions. They’ve expanded from milking just ten cows in the early days, to now milking a closed herd of 130 cows. The cows spend the winter indoors, and then leave the sheds to spend the summer outdoors from around the end of April until the end of August or early September. This creates “mild seasonal variations” in the cheese, Lily says, depending on what the cows are eating through the different seasons. They make two cheeses – the Isle of Mull, which is a cheddar-like crumbly hard cheese, and a blue cheese, which has “a strong punch flavour”, Lily says, as they keep its production small-scale due to the constraints of available land and milk.

Nothing is wasted

There are big plans for the future of Isle of Mull Cheese, and Sgriob-ruadh Farm. They have ambitions of setting up a distillery to process their waste whey, as sustainable and hopefully economical use for re-purposing the product, aiming to create a spirit or perhaps, a cream liqueur incorporating their excess cream. The family are always trying to find new ways of repurposing things which would otherwise not have a use. For example, the Glass Barn, their cafe and shop, is actually a recycled village hall, which was dismantled down the road from the farm and reused to house their retail space.

A family affair

The farm is very much still a family business – perhaps more so now than ever. Brendan runs the customer-facing side of the business, while his brother Garth is in charge of running the farm itself. Lily’s mum, Shelagh, manages the processing, orders and dispatch of all the cheese, and Lily herself runs the Glass Barn when it is open during the summer months.

It’s all about the taste

The taste of Isle of Mull Cheese comes in huge part from the island elements. Lily says “the quality of the milk is because of where they live, and how it tastes is because of where they live. Our environment and being from Mull has a massive part in that.” Clearly Lily’s grandparents knew what they were doing when they relocated their farm to the Hebridean island, with a distinctive cheese that tells the story of where it comes from being a natural progression from their days running a milk round. “In the past we’ve had it described as being quite wild,” Lily says of the cheese, and that can surely only come from their cows enjoying life on their island home as much as the Reade family who care for them.

Discover more about Isle of Mull Cheese and other producers as part of the Farm Produce Taste of Place Trails >