Farewell to Bob Kitching, the driving force behind the Lancashire cheese revival
PUBLISHED: 19:29 14 April 2013 | UPDATED: 18:06 09 March 2016
It is with immense sadness that I dedicate April's column to a Lancashire Life Food Hero and very dear friend, Bob Kitching, of Leagram Organic Cheese, who has died recently.
I first met Bob, and his lovely family, wife, Chris, and daughters, Faye and Theresa, in 2005, at a farmers’ market. Bob quickly took me, and my ‘hobby’ business, under his wing, offering invaluable advice and support to turn it from an airy-fairy ‘concept’ into something more sustainable.
I mistakenly viewed Bob as a very shy and retiring character; how wrong could I have been?
At Tatton Hall Food Show I sneaked into the audience to watch Bob, whom I knew was an expert, do a cheese-making demonstration. Wearing his trademark, cheese-emblazoned waistcoat, he got to the part of his demo where he gently squeezed the malleable curds from the whey through muslin. He paused, and appeared to drift off, leaving the audience slightly bemused. He then resumed, saying: ‘I don’t know why, but whenever I do this, I think of Philippa!’ He winked and gave me his trademark, cheeky grin.
Bob was a butcher when he met Chris, but her views on animal welfare were very different to Bob’s and, driven by his love for Chris, he switched his career to the much gentler art of cheese-making. He never looked back.
Using milk from local, organic sheep on the Leagram Estate, and with cows’ milk coming from suppliers within a ten mile radius, the company produced - and will continue to produce - Lancashire organic creamy, crumbly, mature, and soft Lancashire cheese, alongside many flavoured versions. Other cheeses include Red Leicester, Cheddar and Wensleydale. Bob’s sense of humour was not lost on Visit England, who recommended, ‘Bob’s Knobs, with a bit of pickle’.
Bob never went down the supermarket route, seeing cheese making as an art, and not a business, despite ‘churning’ out 300kg of it every week.
His great efforts to revive Lancashire cheese and his tireless devotion to the cause resulted in him being ‘Food Hero of the Year’ in the Lancashire Life awards for 2009-10. At the time he said: ‘It is just such a surprise and a great testament to the staff that I have. We’re one of the smallest cheese producers in Lancashire so it’s brilliant that we’ve won this.
‘Lancashire is the best place for food, not just cheese. Everyone should know about all the fantastic food we have from all these brilliant producers in Lancashire and I’m trying to make as many people as possible aware of it. It’s not a job, it’s my passion.’
Passion was a word to sum up Bob, along with dedication, humility, charisma, and boundless enthusiasm; he was a real family man, with a wicked sense of fun.
For me, Chipping Agricultural Show, where Bob and I demonstrated together in the cheese judging marquee, will never be the same. It was a privilege to have known him - he will be missed by many, many people, far and wide.