ONE of the top ten dairy groups in the world has bought Wensleydale Dairy Products for £23m.

The Wensleydale operation is one of the most iconic Yorkshire businesses with two facilities in North Yorkshire employing more than 210 people.

The new owners told the D&S last night they will be keeping both sites and will protect the brand.

Saputo already owns Cathedral City and Davidstow cheddars and the company’s Chief Executive, Lino A. Saputo said: “Wensleydale Dairy Products is home to an immense amount of passion, care, and tradition.

“Not only is it a well-established British business with high-quality products and award-winning cheeses, but our corporate cultures are well-aligned, and I’m delighted to welcome the entire team into the Saputo family.”

The deal is expected to close in a few weeks.

The jobs seem to be safe for now but the brand is so treasured by this region that it will be the idea of an international owner that will be the hardest thing to accept.

The sight of Creamery vehicles rolling along the country lanes will be a familiar one, but each journey is a reminder that location, location, location could be a problem, problem, problem for a new owner keen to stay loyal to the brand and what makes it important, but under pressure over logistics and scale.

History and heritage matter here - and are a valuable trading commodity for global businesses who want to reassure investors and their local workforce that they care about people and places as much as profit.

As a spokesman for the company told D&S: "Wensleydale’s visitor centre in Hawes was one of the attractions of this acquisition. We intend to continue to support and grow the Wensleydale business and there are no plans to close sites or lose the Wensleydale brand. Our two businesses both have long and distinguished histories in British dairying and our company cultures are well aligned. We look forward to welcoming the Wensleydale team into the Saputo family."

Saputo itself has a 67-year history from the days when the family left their home town of Montelepre, Sicily and settled in Montreal with only $500 for equipment and a bicycle for deliveries.

In the Sixties and Seventies, Saputo went through a significant growth period, becoming Canada’s most important mozzarella producer and then went on to triple in size by the end of the Nineties.

So the building blocks are there for a company that understands what Wensleydale means.

The Saputo statement said: “The business sources its milk from 40 local farms and uses its own unique cheesemaking starter cultures. With this strategic acquisition, Saputo is pleased to add another leading and prominent UK cheese brand to its portfolio.”

In December 2013, its Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese achieved European Protected Geographical Indication status to stop it being imitated.

Producing approximately 4,000 tonnes of cheese, and operating one of the top tourist destinations in the Yorkshire Dales, the business is a major provider of rural jobs, contributing £12m to the local economy annually. The company has declined to issue a statement about the deal.

Saputo is also the top dairy processor in Australia, and the second largest in Argentina. In the USA, Saputo is in the top three producers.