When Telfit Farm came onto the market seven years ago, Oliver Leatham took his wife Lucy to see it. The 650-acre estate at Marske is simply breathtaking, with a grouse moor, views over Swaledale and a farmhouse that sits in a perfect glacial bowl. She was captivated by its extraordinary beauty.

Food entrepreneur Oliver, who founded the Merchant Gourmet brand with his brother Mark, was already familiar with the area and had visions of what could be achieved at Telfit. The charming farmhouse and cart house were transformed into a boutique wedding and shooting party venue and spacious holiday retreat, while on the farm, the Leathams have taken an holistic, regenerative approach to farming, minimising the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, improving the health of the soil, renewing the woodlands and encouraging greater wildlife.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Telfit Farm sits high in spectacular Swaledale

The farmed animals here are rare breeds and it is the cattle that are Oliver’s greatest passion. Telfit’s hillsides are dotted with one of the UK’s oldest rare breeds, the White Park, first thought to have adorned the countryside over 2,000 years ago. “My brother has White Parks on his Dorset farm and encouraged me to follow him into the breed,” he says. “They’re hardy, happy on the rough hillsides and have a docile temperament, but it is the flavour of the succulent beef they produce that sets them apart. It is by far the best beef I’ve ever had.”

There were already sheep on the farm, a hefted flock of Swaledale ewes which produce up to 600 lambs each year, and now there are pigs too. It was son Ben’s idea to add outdoor-reared Middle Whites to the meat enterprise as they offer all-year round produce.

Earlier this year, the 27-year-old launched eatTelfit. After spending four years working as a chef in the world of fine dining and in London as a development chef, Covid had stalled his career, so after spending time honing his knowledge and learning the ropes through selling Telfit meat and produce, he has grown the business to include other farmers practising or looking to practice regenerative agriculture, something he’s passionate about.

Darlington and Stockton Times: eat telfit

“We are very fortunate to be surrounded by the most spectacular landscape throughout the Yorkshire Dales and particularly so at Telfit, which is a unique landscape,” he says. “We aim to be good custodians and regenerative agriculture will allow us to improve and care for our land in a way that means it will be better in 20 years time than it is now. We are transforming our landscape through the introduction of greater diversity of species and habitats across our farm with tree planting, wildflower, meadow seeding and diverse pastures.”

The Yorkshire Dales is famous for producing some of the best grass-fed lamb in the world and Ben has scoured the area for the best farmers rearing the most natural and sustainable native breed lamb available. “All our lamb is slowly reared on natural diverse pastures, creating the most wonderful, delicate, yet complex flavour,” he says.

There’s “proper” pork, too, from pigs that are free to engage fully in their natural instincts. “Our pigs are free to range, dig, wallow and wander in the summer months. In winter, we bring them inside to well bedded, warm barns. Some of our producers use pigs to clear and regenerate woods, which benefits both the pig and the environment. All this results in superb flavoursome sustainable pork, as natural as you can get.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Ben Leatham

Then there’s that super succulent Telfit beef, grown naturally and slowly on both diverse, natural pastures and rough hillsides. Ben believes in proper native breeds, ethically reared in a way that’s sensitive to the environment, which he says produces beef with remarkable flavour and texture.

And now there’s a new breed on the Telfit hillsides, a herd of Belted Galloway cattle. “We love the way they look on our landscape and the beef they produce is superb,” says Ben, “although I would argue that any slow-grown, grass-fed native breed beef will taste superb. The flavour all comes from the age of the animal and I would encourage anyone to try vintage beef. It’s unique.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: eat telfit

All the meat is frozen immediately after butchery, and although he’s aware that some people shy away from frozen meat as they believe it will affect the product, Ben says this is absolutely not the case. “The secret is to freeze fast and defrost slowly,” he explains. “We ensure our meat is rapidly frozen to preserve flavour and texture and, defrosted slowly in the fridge, this texture will remain completely unchanged. Critically, freezing our meat allows us to select the finest beef and lamb when it is at its best, regardless of the immediate demand.”

The eatTelfit website offers single steaks, joints of meat, chops, lamb leg and mince, or a half lamb or quarter pig box.

Offal and more unusual cuts of meat are still a challenge to the British consumer, says Ben. “But I do think this is changing. People are starting to feel more confident in cooking them and realising that there is great value to be found in the so-called lesser cuts of the animal that are packed with flavour. Offal is also becoming more popular and I would encourage anyone to try heart. Blindfolded, I would challenge anyone to know it wasn’t steak!”

Plans for 2024 are to expand the eatTelfit range, especially the Larder section, which currently offers spices and rubs to enhance and flavour dishes. “We are aiming to work with a number of small artisan producers to source the best sustainable ingredients from around the UK. As a chef, this is close to my heart,” says Ben. “We are also adding a charcuterie range made with our regenerative products, as well eatTelfit honey from our own moor and others in the nearby dales. I also would love to launch our own small range of ready meals one day.”

So what will the Leatham family be tucking into on Christmas Day – beef, lamb or pork? “Turkey!” laughs Ben, adding that this year they have supplied “some truly spectacular” native woodland-reared Bronze turkeys. “Slowly grown in a diverse natural environment, they are free to roam like no other turkeys you can buy,” he says. “An ancient woodland creature, turkeys raised in this habitat are able to engage in their natural instincts producing the most superb roast.

“The wonderful flavour is completely different to any other turkey out there!”

Eat Telfit, Leyburn Business Park, DL8 5BP


07930 373 158