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Thursday, March 19, 2009

EATING FOR BRITAIN: LANCASHIRE CHEESE AT LEAGRAM ORGANIC DAIRY































Bob Kitchen is shameless, totally and utterly shameless.

He is a shameless enough to sit beneath his own picture at Nigel Haworth’s excellent restaurant, The Three Fishes, shameless enough to eat off a place mat bearing the very same picture and shameless enough even to then order a pie made with his very own curd cheese.

You can forgive him though for this and, well just about anything, because Bob Kitchen is also one of the absolute favourites of all the people I have met so far on the EATING FOR BRITAIN trip and few people have worked so hard to promote their food to a wider audience. Witty and engaging (and did I mention shameless?) Bob is just the sort of person I was hoping to meet when I set out on my trip in search of Britain’s great food producers.

Bob, along with his daughter, Faye, runs Leagram’s Organic Dairy which has won umpteen prizes for its cheese making over the last fifteen years and, with his self designed portable cheese making demonstration unit has arguably done more to promote Lancashire cheese than anyone, even possibly more than the rightly famous Graham Kirkham.

Bob and Faye had invited me to join them for a day at their small dairy in the stupendously beautiful Ribble valley and, when I arrived, he was already hard at work making cheese while she was up to her eyes in paperwork.

I soon changed into white coat, apron and wellies and joined Bob and his two fellow cheese makers, Stephen and Robert as they kept watch over the four different types that were being prepared that day. The milk for Bob’s cheese comes from two farms and is pasteurised on site. He makes many cheeses, including a cheddar, red Leicester and a manchego style ewe’s milk cheese, however, it is for his Lancashire cheese and for his creamy, soft curd cheese that he has become so well known.

So, here is the thing. I have obviously eaten plenty of Lancashire cheese, usually the excellent Mrs Kirkham’s from Neal’s Yard Dairy and often with an Eccles Cake at St John. However, in my ignorance, I had no idea that there were three types of Lancashire cheese, officially designated “Crumbly” “Creamy” and “Tasty” each with its own different texture, each with its own different taste and each derived from a different starter culture.

In the main tank, holding some 3000 litres, Bob was making a crumbly variety, where the curds had been cut by hand and the whey drained off to be sold to a local pig farmer. While Stephen was busy “breaking” the drained curds with a large shovel, Bob turned his attention to a smaller vat where he showed me the cheddaring process of layering the curds in slabs on top of each other and Robert was expertly flipping small curd cheeses in their baskets so they could drain properly.

As for me, Bob had set me up with two small vats of milk on his demonstration stand so I could make my own cheese, in this case, a crumbly Lancashire and a Red Leicester, a semi-hard cheese tinted with annatto. After heating the milk to the required temperature, I added vegetarian rennet and then waited until the curds began to separate from the whey. Then it was a case of standing guard, stirring occasionally and testing regularly until the acidity was at the correct level, before removing the whey, slowing down the process with the addition of salt and packing the curds into small cheese moulds for pressing.

It sounds simple enough, but with so many other cheese being made and with so many different processes, it would be easy to take one’s eye off the ball. Bob’ however, makes sure that doesn’t happen and, with the intuition of one who has been making cheese all his life, he moved from one part of the creamery to another making sure that everything was in order.

Bob took me to lunch at The Three Fishes, one of the three restaurants owned by Nigel Haworth, guardian of traditional Lancastrian food. The menu sang out with local produce and every supplier had their own place of honour not only in photos on the walls but also on the reverse of the menu. A habit many other places could and should follow.

They know Bob there, of course, he supplies all of the restaurants with his cheeses and his soft, silky curds cheese is a particular favourite of Nigel’s.

He marched us to a quiet part of the restaurant and sat down beneath a picture of himself taken in the creamery. I imagine I was not the first to witness this nor to see him order a pie made with his curd cheese. He beamed with pride as it was placed before him at the same time as my slow cooked shin of local beef. He had every right to be proud. This is a superb cheese and one that had won many, many awards and my one small bite made this a dish I am planning to replicate as soon as possible.

Back at the dairy, the cheeses were being dipped in wax and stored in the cool room to age until ready. Bob packed an icebox with my own humble examples and slipped in a few of his curd cheeses too for me to take away. They have a while to go before being quite ready to try, but few things will be more pleasurable than cracking open a cheese made with my own fair hands at some point in the future.

That is, after all what the trip is all about. That, of course, and shameless but beguiling producers like Bob Kitchen.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous JimT said...

As I may have mentioned, I'm from Lancashire and I had no idea there were three types of Lancashire cheese either. Mind you, I don't particularly like the stuff (I presume it's the crumbly I've had) and agree with your mate Jay Rayner, who once described it as "salty chalk". I'd probably be all over the creamy though, as it's the texture I don't like.

Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying your time in Lancashire.

Friday, March 20, 2009 9:00:00 am  
Anonymous Harters said...

We do cheese well in the north west and I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

Leagrams is a cracker of a cheese and why anyone would ever want to stray from a "tasty" Lancashire, I don't know. Probably the Daddy of the Tasty is a "bomb" from the nearby Shorrocks farm. As mature as a good Cheddar, I find it hard to beat.

Except, perhaps, by a Bourne's Cheshire - but then I'm a Cestrian not a Lancastrian.

J

Friday, March 20, 2009 9:14:00 am  
Anonymous Harters said...

As always, Bob was selling his cheese at Ashton farmers market this morning. I spotted something that was new to me - a black waxed cheese with the sprightly name of "Bob's Knob". Sort of long and lumpy, with a bobbly top - green for 2 year old; red for 3.

Bob gave me a taste of each - suggesting that the 3 year old was probably too mature. He was right - there was an acidity there that just wasnt quite right.

A good morning's shopping - a green "Knob", a mature Bourne's Cheshire; some shin beef from the Beef Direct folk from Anglesey; and jam and marmalade from the skilled hands of Bob Thorpe on the Country Markets stall.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 12:03:00 pm  

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