Christmas has arrived early for a chef from Kirkby Stephen - in
fact Dianne Halliday and her hardworking team at Country Fare have
been baking home made luxury Christmas cakes ever since January.
Festive business is booming this year for the farmhouse bakery. They
are currently selling a staggering collection of Christmas confectionery
and have produced hundreds of hand decorated cakes, including versions
with and without nuts, cakes with whisky, glace cherry cakes and gluten
free varieties, in sizes to suit every budget from individual portions
to super-sized family extravaganzas serving up to 40 people.
The tempting yuletide range also includes Christmas puddings, as well
as the 500 mince pies per day that Dianne and her staff are still busy
Country Fare is a real culinary success story, which has gone from strength
to strength since it began in Dianne's own kitchen in 1999. Business boomed
and in 2002 Dianne was awarded a Defra Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) grant
to expand into a converted barn, and was soon employing eight full time
staff from local farming families.
The barn, which is a traditional farm building on the family's working
sheep farm, also benefited from an Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA)
grant to help towards the costs of re-roofing, using traditional materials
such as flag slates and a wooden A frame.
The following year, Dianne was ready to expand again and was awarded
a further RES grant towards the costs of a packing and wrapping room,
a staff room, toilets and parking. She now employs ten staff, all from
local farming families, and ropes husband David in at the weekends when
she needs an extra pair of hands.
Country Fare now supplies ASDA and Booths supermarkets, as well as selling
their range through several local shops and farmers' markets. The non-festive
range includes butter, walnut and ginger shortbreads, traybakes, caramel
slices, tiffin, scones, Madeira cake, date and walnut cake and traditional
Grasmere gingerbread made to Dianne's grandmother's recipe.
They also ring the changes in January and February and make preserves
such as marmalade and pickled damsons while the majority of the nation
is on a diet after consuming too many Christmas goodies.
Despite the venture's huge success, with Dianne even being named one
of Rick Stein's 'Food Heroes' on national television, Country Fare still
remains very much a Cumbrian business. They use top quality local suppliers
for the ingredients with eggs from nearby Levens, Cumbrian milk and flour
from Carr's Flour mill in Silloth.
"I buy most the ingredients locally, employ local staff and sell
through a lot of small outlets as well as supermarkets. My staff work
incredibly hard and we are delighted by how successful the business has
"We still have a working farm, but with farm incomes on the decline
Country Fare has been a wonderful opportunity to diversify and we are
delighted by the success. We have made literally hundreds of Christmas
cakes this year and they have been selling extremely well - although I
don't know if I will even feel like eating one myself on December 25th
after spending all year surrounded by them!"
Tracy MacDonald, an adviser from Defra's Rural Development Service in
the North West, said:
"Country Fare is an excellent example of a farming family using
RES to diversify and make their business sustainable by adapting to changing
markets. The venture is also supporting the local community both in terms
of providing employment and by using local farms to source quality raw
ingredients such as eggs and milk for a fair price.
"Since the initial grant was awarded Dianne has made a huge success
of the business, and the demand for her cakes at Christmas and all year
round illustrates the popularity and quality of local Cumbrian produce.
Country Fare is an asset to the rural economy."
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