The Big Cheese - Your chance to get involved

Booths workers get stuck into creating their very own Booths Lancashire Cheese
Booths workers get stuck into creating their very own Booths Lancashire Cheese
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Forget Stinking Bishop - washed in perry hence the name - or Cornish Yarg named after the couple who made it and spelt their name backwards.

In these parts Dewlay is the Big Cheese for Christmas.

Forget Wensleydale - even if it is celebrated via the new Wallace and Gromit ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

There is only one cheese for Lancashire and it is ... Lancashire cheese.

There’s just one problem. Lancashire cheese can come from other parts. Generally within the North West but no more Lancashire, even old county palatine of Lancashire, than Yorkshire Pudding or the school girl with no eyebrows on Educating Yorkshire.

To confuse the issue there is one PDO on the definitive Lancashire cheese - PDO as in Protected Designation of Origin, under the European law passed in 1992 to protect the names of regional foods.

Beacon Fell Traditional Lancashire Cheese is, says the British Cheese Board, the Rolls Royce of Lancashire cheeses.

It’s made to a traditional two or three day mixed curd recipe, aged between two and six months to produce a magical soft-bodied texture and a complex but creamy flavour.

But it also means other Lancashire cheeses produced in, well, Lancashire don’t get a PDO in their own right. It would be deemed too confusing. Including to customers who specifically request, say, Dewlay or Grandma Singleton’s and the like.

That said, there’s a chance to redress the balance.

Lancashire Day is bubbling under - coming right up on November 27 and it’s not all hot pot and red roses, clogs and Corrie, folks.

VisitLancashire.com, the official tourist board for Lancashire, with a big Blackpool element, is running a Say Cheese for Lancashire Day promotion, urging locals and visitors to send in their smiliest shots to be in with a chance of bagging £100 worth of goodies from Dewlay at Garstang and other treats from Bashall Barn at Clitheroe. Check out www.visitlancashire.com and follow the links.

It commemorates the day in 1295 when Lancashire sent its first representatives to Parliament by King Edward I of England to attend what later became known as The Model Parliament.

Lancashire Day was first observed in 1996 with the loyal toast to “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster”, and is open to celebration from everywhere within the county.

It’s still odd to find a lad from Cork in southern Ireland flying the flag for Lancashire cheese - but Conor Daunt is undaunted by his role as Dewlay’s commercial director.

The big cheeses from the British Cheese Board have just hosted a tasting session at the Garstang based company, shop and viewing gallery, to spread the word.

The emphasis was on a form of localism dear to all of our hearts - food. Cheese expert and secretary of the British Cheese Board Nigel White presented cheeses from across the county - many of them from our own chunk of Lancashire.

Conor says there’s no infighting in cheese ranks .. it is not their whey (sorry). “It’s a great bunch of people who work together because they are passionate about what they do and want to spread the word further afield.

“It’s not about who’s the best or what’s the best cheese - it’s all different and has its place in the market.”

Cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods regardless of the economy but it can be hard for artisan specialists to compete with the pile them high, sell them cheap ethos of major supermarkets.

Independent chains, such as Booths, have the edge, and also support initiatives to not only get more customers eating more Lancashire cheese but involve their own staff too.

Six cheese specialists from the chain, including three from Fylde coast shops, including flagship Lytham, recently visited Dewlay to craft their very own cheese.

“It was on our invitation, one of those wouldn’t it be nice if... ideas,” says Conor. Staff leapt at the chance. And the cheese, created about six weeks ago, is already in such demand Dewlay is running off another batch as it looks like being a mainstay of the cheese range. Booths own Lancashire cheese. It’s all wheels within wheels in the cheese trade...

Now he’s hoping the Say Cheese campaign will take off as well as last year’s. “We got some brilliant pictures sent in. Including tons of animal pictures from Blackpool Zoo. And a lot of support from celebrity cheese fans or makers, too.”

Tourism is worth £3.5bn to the Lancashire economy and a day out doesn’t just begin and end in Blackpool. More are being tempted further afield by a network of attractions, such as Lancashire cruises along the waterways near Barton Grange, tie-ins with coach companies dropping visitors off at Dewlay as part of their big day out. And more.

Conor’s other half is a Lancashire lass and they moved here from Ireland a few years ago. “I never knew how much Lancashire had to offer until I moved here,” he admits. “Now it’s like home, particularly in the rain.”

Conor knows his niche market - and says it’s worldwide given Lancashire’s appeal.

The tasting featured top cheese from Dewlay (Lancashire creamy crumbly and Garstang Blue), Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, Butler’s Blackstick Blue, Delamere’s goats cheese, Belton’s Cheshire and more.

There’s a little inhouse rivalry between the cheese clans but it’s all good hearted partisan fun. Evidence suggests that cheese was being made in Lancashire from the 13th Century; however the style, texture and taste is unlikely to be what we recognise as Lancashire cheese today.

The Fylde was a dairy stronghold and time was when each farmer’s wife would use the surplus milk to produce cheese to sustain their family through the winter and supplement their household income.

Historical records show Lancashire cheese was being transported by boat to London from Liverpool in the 1600’s.

In around 1890 a Lancashire County Council worker called Joseph Gornall began his own mass cheese observation exercise, visiting all the farmers in the county, looking at cheesemaking, and giving tips on production and method, to standardise production and create the definitive Lancashire cheese.

Creamy Lancashire and Tasty Lancashire still conform to that method - although Conor points out the taste varies with the different milk.

Crumbly is a more recent innovation - created in the 1960s. Plus there are brand new contemporary sliced and other cheeses to win over a new market.

Conor adds: “The British Cheese Board is great at raising the profile of English cheese and getting people to try more territorial cheese.

“All are brilliant in their own right in the north West. We have quality dairies here and the work put into their products is outstanding. It’s like the wine world, you appreciate other dairies’ products.

“Climate is crucial to our cheese. We go on about the weather in the region but it’s the perfect conditions for growing grass.

“And good grass, and good soil, make for happy cows - which makes for happy milk and then happy cheese.

“You can’t make good cheese from bad milk. The culture we use, the so called good bacteria, is also unique to us - here at Dewlay.

“Anyone can set up as a cheesemaker but we have our own recipe, our own culture, developed on site, produced for years, and it makes for a nice creamy or tasty or crumbly cheese.

“There’s a world of a difference in the products. You can get a farmhouse Lancashire which smells and tastes of the farm ialmost, really rustic, whereas as our’s smells of rich milk, creamy dairy smells.

“Both cheeses are great, both specialist artisan cheese, but there are nuances and subtleties.

“Generations take on the recipe, making cheese the way their dad and his dad and his dad before him, taught them. You can tweak it a little, add chives or garlic for something a little different on the cheese board at Christmas, but generally it already changes with the milk.

“It’s a living product, winter milk is different to summer milk, you may find you have to leave it longer before you cut the curds, or add salt at a different time.”

Conor’s a convert himself. “I wasn’t brought up on the type of cheese available here, it was more mainstream, but once you’ve tasted Lancashire cheese, there’s none better.”

He tips Garstang Blue and Tasty Special Reserve Lancashire for Christmas.

“Localness is a big deal for us, customers are looking more and more into the provenance of food, the heritage, how many road miles are covered. We deal with 10 local farmers and the furthest is six miles away - so it’s really local. We take every drop of milk from them and they’re all immensely dedicated. We have a long standing relationship with them.

“The French and Italians have been fantastic at protecting their foods - the best selling cheese is Parmesan and you can’t make it except in the Parma region. It would be lovely to get that level of protection for all our Lancashire cheeses and not just Beacon Fell. Perhaps it’s time to have another pop at the Europeans. It would be a major opportunity for the export market. We already have customers all over Europe.

“The Brits and the French make the best cheese in the world. But we don’t want to lose our core customers who go to the traditional markets - although we’ve seen a decline in those markets.

“Booths are great, Sainsbury’s stock us to an extent, we’re mostly in markets and independent cheese shops and specialists.

“The future’s bright. Home cooking has taken off immensely and Lancashire cheese is the most brilliant cheese for melting - for cooking.

“Our cheese is very much out there.”