AILSA Proverbs, founder of The Big Cheese Making Company, has been awarded an MBE for services to the food industry in East Lothian.
After growing up in Menstrie, near Alloa, and Newtonmore in the Highlands, Ailsa studied philosophy and applied social science at Stirling University and worked for ten years or so in marketing for various charities and organisations, including Scottish Screen, Scottish Business in the Community and ProjectScotland among others.
While she was working she also took did a diploma in marketing at Stevenson College, now Edinburgh College.
Ailsa, 37, is married with two children, aged two and four, and lives in Tranent.
Her big break came after watching chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showing how to make yoghurt on TV. It set her thinking about cheese.
“I wondered how I might go about making cheese myself,” she said, “I looked online and it seemed fairly easy to do, it was getting your hands on all the bits and bobs for doing it that was the tricky bit.”
And so was born the idea of The Big Cheese Making Kit – containing everything needed to make fresh mozzarella, ricotta, goat’s cheese, Scottish crowdie or halloumi by simply adding milk,
Ailsa tried it out on a few friends first and even organised focus groups before launching.
She sold her first kit in September 2012 and since then has seen the business expand dramatically. The kits are on sale in Harrods, Selfridges and around 200 independent retailers in the UK. She is also exporting them to South Africa, the Netherlands and Denmark and has just taken on a full-time international business manager who is exploring new markets.
To start with, Ailsa ran the business from her home, but in October she moved to an office at the Creative Exchange in Constitution Street, Leith.
Her husband, Sean, is general manager of kiltmakers Hector Russell in Princes Street.
Ailsa was delighted when she was given the MBE in the Queen’s 2014 Birthday Honours List announced last month.
She said: “I am amazed to have received such a great honour which also recognises the contribution the food and drink industry makes to the UK economy and culture.
“The purpose of the company is to demystify the cheese making process so that anyone can make fresh cheese easily at home and it caught on almost immediately among foodies and as a quality gift. There is a huge market outside of the UK and I am very ambitious for the future.”