Lancashire is one of the most traditional cheeses in Britain, and evidence suggest that cheeses of this kind were being made as far back as the 13th century. In 1939, there were more than 200 different producers in the country. Today, however, Kirkham’s is the only raw milk farmhouse Lancashire being produced anywhere in the world.
Part of what makes Lancashire a unique cheese is the way in which it is made. Instead of completing the cheese in one day, cheesemakers combine curds from two, or even three, days of milking. This practice arose because dairy farmers would not have enough surplus milk from one day to produce an entire cheese, so they would have to wait until the next day to finish the job.
The make of the cheese is also slow and gentle to protect the integrity of the curds and achieve the desired creamy-crumbly texture. Very little rennet and starter culture is added, relative to other cheeses, meaning that the character and quality of the milk shines through in the finished product. Despite its popularity and historical importance, the number of farmhouse Lancashire cheesemakers declined dramatically in the course of the 20th century.
The advent of the second world war put an abrupt end to the production of the cheese, as it was deemed unsuitable for wartime rationing. Many cheesemakers did not return to their parlours after the war had finished, and those that did were subject to the demands of the Milk Marketing Board, an organisation that favoured homogenization and volume of production over diversity and the quality of the product. Combined with the impact of competition from cheaper factory cheeses, this period marked the loss of a great deal of traditional British cheesemaking knowledge.
Neal’s Yard Dairy is proud to have been working with the Kirkham family for more than 25 years as they continue to keep the traditions of Lancashire cheese alive. We still visit their farm in Goosnargh every month to select cheeses for our customers.