Why Mrs Kirkham's are world renowned for their Lancashire cheese
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 March 2016
We visit a long-standing Lancashire cheese maker with a proud history. Emma Mayoh reports. Photography by Glynn Ward
THEY’RE not the sort of family that boasts about their achievements although, when you look at their track record, you could forgive them for the occasional smile of quiet satisfaction.
Mrs Kirkham’s cheeses have won so many accolades they’ve almost certainly lost count. Their list of customers is a ‘Who’s Who’ of retailing - think Harrods, Neal’s Yard Dairy, Waitrose and Booths - and their traditional Lancashire cheese is enjoyed across the country as well as further afield. But you’ll never hear them bragging about it.
‘We don’t do it for awards or praise, we do it because it is something we are proud of and it is something we love,’ said Graham Kirkham. ‘We don’t need people telling us that we’re the best. We know we’re the best at what we do.
‘We are the last true traditional cheesemakers, making a raw cow’s milk Lancashire cheese. Nobody else does it.’
It was Graham’s mum, Ruth, who first started making her now famous Lancashire cheese in 1978 in the old piggery at the family farm in Goosnargh. The now 70-year-old had been taught the recipe from her mum, Ruth Townley, who also used to make cheese at Whin House at nearby Inglewhite until she retired, passed the equipment onto her daughter. They remained involved, though, as they used to store the cheese made by their daughter and son-in-law, John, in their sitting room, where it matured.
‘My grandad used to turn the cheeses every night,’ said Graham. ‘Randolph Hodgson from Neal’s Yard Dairy used to drive up here and collect cheese from us. He always wanted it from my grandad’s house, rather than the farm.
‘He always said it was a warmer cheese and the ones kept in the sitting room had a warmer, more mature taste.’
It was help from Randolph Hodgson and his now famous company that helped launch Mrs Kirkham’s into a much bigger operation. He stocked it in their Covent Garden base and they have been selling the raw Lancashire cheese for more than 25 years.
Graham, a former mechanic, rejoined the family business about 18 years ago. Under his stewardship a new cheese making dairy replaced the one in the old piggery in 2008 and a state-of-the-art milking parlour was built for the Holstein Friesian cows. Graham also started taking Mrs Kirkham’s to farmers’ markets and speciality food events which helped promote the cheese and boost sales.
Today, Graham with wife, Kellie, his sons Shaun and Mike and Sarah Collier and Amy Cooper now spend hours every day hand making the cheese. Graham and his family still produce that same traditional raw cow’s milk Lancashire cheese every day of the week. They use a slow process to get the best taste possible. Apart from one piece of machinery, the cheese is still hand made using traditional presses.
‘We have looked at the recipe over the years and made sure it is sticking to its real Lancashire roots,’ said Graham. ‘It’s not white and crumbly like the more commercial cheeses; it’s quite buttery in colour and texture and is creamy.
‘For cheese to be called real Lancashire cheese it has to be made in Lancashire, with Beacon Fell in view from the cheese making premises. Traditional Lancashire is made by hand, cloth-bound and finished with full-cream clarified butter, which gives it a moist, creamy finish. The cheese carries a lot of moisture and matures quickly.’
Each year Mrs Kirkham’s produce 90 tonnes of cheese that are sent to wholesalers and retailers across the UK and abroad. The welfare and comfort of the herd are crucial to Graham. Through the winter, they are kept inside in roomy cubicle housing. In the summer they’re outside during the day and back inside at night, so their diets can be monitored.
Their cheeses have become renowned. In fact, it sells more outside Lancashire than it does within the county.
Kellie explained: ‘Graham is a cheesemaker up here and he gets on with his job. But when he goes down to London he is a celebrity. If he goes to Neal’s Yard for an event, everyone crowds around him. It’s like grab a granny! It’s funny.
‘The last few years we have done more local shows so that people realise who we are. There is no one doing what we do and we want people to know that.’
Despite this and their success, the family has no desire to make Mrs Kirkham’s a huge operation
‘I feel we’re really fortunate. Our artisanal approach means our cheese is sold in all the right places. And there’s always someone interesting coming to visit us, or an interesting event to attend,’ said Graham.
‘It’s all about quality over quantity. We love what we do and we get to do it all from this beautiful area at the bottom of Beacon Fell.’