Kirkham Lancashire Cheese is a farmhouse version of Lancashire cheese, actually made in Lancashire.
It is very white, with a sharp taste.
It is sold aged anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months. When young, it is creamy and a bit crumbly, with a milder taste. As it ages, it acquires a stronger flavour.
The cheese is made at Beesley Farm in Goosnargh, near Preston, Lancashire, from unpasteurised milk from the farm’s own 80 to 100 head herd of Friesian Holstein cows. The farm has 240 acres ( 97 hectares) for the cows to graze on.
As of 2009, eighteen 22 pound (10kg) cheeses are produced a day. The cheese is made in tall rounds.
The cheese is made 7 days a week, using milk from 6 different milkings.
The cows are milked the night before. At the same time, a starter culture is incubated overnight in a separate pan of pasteurized milk.
The next morning, the cows are milked again, with that milk being mixed into milk from the night before, along with the starter culture. The milk is then heated to 88 F (31 C.) Animal rennet is added to curdle the milk. When the curd has formed, it is cut, then drained, and let sit over night. The acid that develops in the curd overnight gives a sharp flavour.
That curd from the day before, is then mixed in with curd made in the same fashion from the current day. The mixed curd is salted, then put into moulds and pressed overnight.
Then it is removed from the mould, wrapped in cloth, dated, and set on shelves to dry a few days.
After that, the cloth is buttered. Using butter rather than wax allows the cheese to breathe and age better.
The cheeses are then moved to shelves in warehouse, and aged, being turned every two weeks.
The farm and business are now run by Graham Kirkham. His family has been making the cheese for 40 years now, spanning three generations: Graham, his mother Ruth (the Mrs Kirkham in the name of the cheese) and his dad John, and before them, Ruth’s mother.
Graham’s two boys, Mike and Sean help out as well.
Making the cheese commercially started in the early 1980s, after Ruth’s mother taught her to make it. Ruth and John started off with 40 Holstein Friesian cows, making only four 22 pound (20kg) cheeses a day. At first, they coated the cheese in wax, but then switched to the buttered cloth for better aging.
In 1985, the cheese was declared the Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards.
They sold through a wholesaler until 1989, when a listeria scare happened in the UK, and the wholesaler demanded they pasteurize the milk, which they refused to. Then they started to sell directly to customers.
Randolph Hodgson, of Neal’s Yard Dairy, London, came and said he’d handle their cheese, which was a big breakthrough for them.
Their son Graham joined the business in 1993.
By 2008, the herd had grown to 100, and the cows had a new barn owing to a £1 million investment in 2008 / 2009. They spent £400,000 on the purpose-built dairy alone. After the switch to newer, larger buildings on the farm, they went through a period where they had to acclimatise the cheeses to the new buildings, to get the flavour and texture back.
In 2009, the cheese was the winner of the dairy category in the Fine Food Northwest Awards.
Cheese-maker’s flair for flavour. Preston, Lancashire: Farmer’s Guardian. 13 March 2009.
Goosnargh’s world famous Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese By Lancashire Life. Undated. Retrieved October 2010 from http://lancashire.greatbritishlife.co.uk/article/goosnarghs-world-famous-mrs-kirkhams-lancashire-cheese-8266/
Goosnargh’s Lancashire cheese maker By Lancashire Life on January 6th 2010
Robinson, Jayne. Journey of Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese. Manchester Confidential. 27 August 2010.