Continuing Bob Kitching's legacy of cheese at Leagram Organics
PUBLISHED: 13:36 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 18:04 09 March 2016
A young woman is following in her dad's footsteps at one of Lancashire's legendary food producers. She spoke to Roger Borrell. Pictures by Kirsty Thompson
Faye Kitching admits she suffered a few first night nerves but it sounds like she put on a performance that would have made her dad proud.
The 32-year-old from Longridge wasn’t treading the boards but talking cheese. Most people who love Lancashire cheese will have sampled one of the 20-odd varieties that come from Leagram Organics.
Faye’s father was Bob Kitching, a man who was largely responsible for the great Lancashire cheese revival. He was a terrific showman, working tirelessly to promote the county’s wonderful and diverse range of cheeses.
He was also founder of the Leagram dairy just outside Chipping in the beautifully remote Bowland countryside. He and his wife, Christine, travelled the UK spreading the word like old style revivalists from the biggest agricultural shows to the small village hall WI meetings.
His ready wit – complete with cheesy jokes and even cheesier waistcoats – meant his demonstration sessions were in great demand. His death two years ago brought them to a halt but the business has continued in the safe hands of Faye and her mother.
However, there was one role she hadn’t managed to take over – her dad’s demonstrations. ‘I finally did my first one last night and it seemed to go pretty well. I didn’t let my mum come and watch though – I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate. And I certainly didn’t wear dad’s outrageous waistcoat – that’s not my thing!’
Faye was working as a photographic stylist in Preston when she decided her dad needed some help running Leagram’s. ‘I was worried that he was under a lot of pressure so I wanted to help with the admin as well as at the farmers’ markets.
‘Dad was so passionate about making cheese – we always joked if you cut him you’d find fondue! Everything else came second, especially paperwork. He was never one for that so I stepped in and took it over.
‘The past few years have been really tough – like most small firms the economy has presented us with some sticky moments. But to deal with the loss of not only your dad, but your boss and your best friend, has been especially hard. Most people can go to work and, to a certain extent, escape their woes. We couldn’t – he’s everywhere.’
Despite difficult times, Faye never considered walking away and Leagram’s is now moving in the right direction. ‘There are too many emotional ties for me to pack in. I owe it to dad to help mum keep it going. I’ve dedicated 12 years of my life to this place and to stop now would feel like I’d failed him,’ she said.
‘My dad was the best PR we could ever have had. He knew an awful lot of people in the food industry, senior people at Marks & Spencer and top chefs like Nigel Haworth and hotels like Gibbon Bridge. Back then we never really needed to go out searching for business. It came to us and I’m pleased to say our old customers have stuck with us.
‘We’ve had great people working here over the years, particularly our cheese maker John Holden. Dad taught him all the secrets about our cheese. We still make it the old-fashioned way by hand. There is only us and Graham Kirkham still doing that and we are the only organic maker of Lancashire cheese.
‘Dad’s ethos was always treat the cheese gently, look after it and it will look after you. Only our sheep’s milk cheese is non-organic but it comes from a farm just across the way.’
Leagram’s make a ton of cheese a month. To place that in context, Cathedral City make 150 tons a day. John Holden and the team make 26 different types – much of it award-winning - including the wonderfully named Bob’s Knob, a small volcano of seriously strong cheese.
Faye’s mum Christine said: ‘Bob would have been so pleased that the business is carrying on and he would have been especially proud that Faye had plucked up the courage to start the demonstrations.’
Faye added: ‘I’ve been surrounded by cheese most of my life. I do eat it but it’s a bit like the people who work for Cadbury’s. They tend not to eat a lot of chocolate.’
Bob and Christine once worked together at Dairycrest. ‘When I was young I could tell when they came home because I could smell the cheese,’ laughed Faye. ‘The worrying thing is that after working here for 12 years I can’t smell it any more!’
Join our awards night
Bob Kitching was named Food Hero of the Year in the 2009-10 Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. His wife Christine said: ‘Winning the Lancashire Life Food Hero award was a real highpoint. Bob and I shared the same birthday and the presentation was made on that day so it was something we were never going to forget.’
If you are food fan and would like to attend this year’s awards, visit our Food Awards website