Supporting our territorial cheesemakers

Written by: Finn Dunlop
18 Feb

This week we welcome back a dear friend to our delicatessen after a brief but significant absence. A friend that is otherwise always present on our counter… at least up until Christmas Eve 2023!

A precautionary recall for all of Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese was issued on Christmas Day following a small outbreak of E-coli, where some of the cases had a possible link to the Kirkham’s dairy. All of their cheeses in stock had to be returned and a precautionary notice was published.

Over the seven weeks that followed, retailers were unable to sell Kirkham’s cheese whilst the authorities carried out their investigations. Fortunately, none of the samples taken showed any evidence of the E-coli pathogen and consequently the ban on sale has now been lifted. Kirkham’s can once again sell its wonderful territorial Lancashire cheese!

This is an important story, and enormous credit must go to the territorial cheesemakers across the UK who fight to ensure they exist and survive at all. Before World War 2, there were 202 farmhouse producers of Lancashire cheese alone, but artisan cheesemaking became virtually extinct because of rationing, when cheesemaking was effectively centralised & standardised by the government.

Regional recipes & variations were lost and it wasn’t until 1978 when Ruth Kirkham resurrected her mother’s farmhouse recipe for Lancashire cheese and started once again to produce it commercially. The cheese continues to be made by Ruth’s son - Graham – who maintains the traditional cheesemaking methods whilst adapting to an ever-challenging dairy industry.

Today, they are the only remaining producer making raw milk Lancashire cheese using this method. The milk from their 100 Holstein Friesian cows flows directly from the milking parlour into the dairy, where the curds are combined from several days of milking. The multiple curds are then milled together before being pressed, wrapped and smothered in butter. The cheese is then left to mature for six months, which results in a wonderfully creamy texture and complex flavours that represent the terroir and methods of production.

To lose these traditional territorial recipes would not just be a tragedy for the farmers & cheesemakers, but also for cheesemongers & consumers. Closures are all too frequent recently, and as a community of food lovers, we believe in our responsibility to support these great producers.

Diversity in our food system is important to both people & planet, and we can have a direct impact through our choices to ensure that the rich variety of these territorial cheeses carries forward into the future.

We are delighted to have our old friend, Kirkhams, back on our counter and we look forward to sharing the love and continuing to support them. Do not hesitate to ask for a sample! The team will aways be delighted to share in the personal stories that surround Kirkhams and all our other handmade territorial cheeses.