Lancashire cheese is a truly local cheese. Produced by ten dairies, all within a ten-mile radius of one another, with Beacon Fell as the major landmark between them all, it’s a cottage industry gone large. Knowing how many of our readers are cheese fiends, we felt strangely drawn to investigate.
There’s no cheese made like it anywhere else in the UK. Of course all cheesemakers will say that about their home variety, but there’s truth in this – Lancashire cheese is the only cheese produced in the UK not made from a single curd.
Let’s go back in time to the end of the 19th century: The Forest of Bowland, with Beacon Fell at its heart, is an area rich in pasture and was populated by several smallholdings, grazing herds and producing small (by modern standards) amounts of milk. The lack of refrigeration meant each morning’s and evening’s milking couldn’t be stored, so it was turned into curd, which would keep for two or three days. There was never enough curd from a single day to make cheese, but combined with the previous day’s curd the quantities were often just right. Simple thrift in action, the recipe for Lancashire cheese was born.
Today there are three types of Lancashire – crumbly, creamy and tasty. Tasty Lancashire is the most mature of the three, pressed and kept for around six months to mature. Creamy is kept for a shorter period of time, around three months, but is still a remarkably flavoursome cheese when compared with other three monthers like mild cheddar. Crumbly is kept only a month, giving it its crumbly texture, and is similar to Wensleydale or a Cheshire cheese.
In fact the crumbly Lancashire is a relatively new recipe. Steven Proctor at Greenfields Dairy in Goosnargh claims his grandfather was the man who invented it. “In the 1950s he was making traditional Lancashire cheese, creamy and tasty, but at the markets he was getting requests for other cheeses. Cheshire was popular at the time, so he developed a similar cheese to satisfy the customer!”
Nigel White, Secretary of the British Cheese Board adds: “As more people moved into the milltowns, the demand for cheese, or ‘white meat’ as it was called, grew. Cheshire responded quickly with a crumbly cheese, and Lancashire followed. It’s the maturation process which makes the cheese harder.” Where crumbly Lancashire is a bright white, the longer maturation process for creamy and tasty Lancashire gives both varieties a slightly mottled effect due to the mixing of different curds.
As you’d expect with dairies so close to one another there is some friendly local rivalry, each with their own recipes and secrets, but together the dairies formed the Lancashire Cheesemakers Association and won, in 1996, Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union for the creamy and tasty Lancashire cheese recipe. “Where we make it does matter,” says Proctor. “It just wouldn’t be the same if we made it on an industrial estate.”
Defined as Beacon Fell Traditional Lancashire Cheese, it’s the cylindrical shaped, smooth firm cheese made from full fat milk in the Fylde area of Lancashire. The application states that the buttery texture of the cheese comes from ‘the lush grazing pasture attributable to the moderate climate and high rainfall including the sandstone bedrock resulting in soft water.’
In spite of this, each dairy is quick to highlight the differences between their cheeses, the results of closely-guarded family recipes, often handed down through generations for more than a hundred years.
“Cheesemaking is in the blood around here,” explains Fiona Hasler of Mrs Kirkham’s, Beesly Farm, Goosnargh. Many of the dairies are still family concerns, sourcing their milk from the farms of their relatives in the area. Mrs Kirkham’s is the only cheese producer with their own herd of cows now. “We’re making cheese on a working farm,” she adds. “And we’re the only Lancashire that’s unpasteurised.”
Jean Butler inherited her cheesemaking skills, like many of today’s producers, from her parents. Moving back onto the farm with her husband after the Second World War, she perfected her recipe in her kitchen sink and then scaled up production. “Our tasty Lancashire has a more open texture than the other dairies,” explains Justin Burton, Marketing Assistant at Butler’s Dairy. “Their’s are wetter and stickier…”
It’s these small differences in curd combinations, pasteurisation, rinding, maturation and so on which give each dairy a unique flavour to their particular version of the Lancashire recipe.
However, there is one thing they all seem to agree on, and that’s the best way to eat it. “It’s definitely best as cheese on toast,” says Justin at Butlers. Tangy, creamy, flavoursome, milky and fresh, Lancashire cheese seems to have it all: crumble the crumbly over a salad, bake eggs in the creamy and melt the tasty on toast with a bit of Worcestershire Sauce. However you like it, it’s delicious.
BAKED EGGS FROM LANCASHIRE
BAKED EGGS WITH MRS KIRKHAM’S LANCASHIRE CHEESE
- Lightly butter an ovenproof dish.
- Fill with grated Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese, make two wells in the cheese and add to each a free range egg.
- Thinly slice a juicy ripe vine tomato and arrange around the dish. Finish with freshly milled black pepper.
- Place in a pre heated oven 180 degrees C for 10 to 12 mins or until is is set to your liking.
- Serve with crusty fresh bread for dipping.
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here