WHEN I wrote in May about the expression ‘standing around like cheese at fourpence’, I promised a future column on the joys of Lancashire cheese. And here it is.
So far as I am aware, Lancashire is the only British variety to have three official designations – creamy, tasty and crumbly – although there are more variations on this than you can shake a stick at.
Let’s start with the creamy. For hundreds of years, wives of the county’s dairy farmers used to make cheese from surplus cow’s milk. On small outfits each day’s excess was curdled and kept for a while until there was enough to blend together and make a cheese. This combination of varying maturities of curd is apparently what gives Lancashire its unique character. The traditional method was standardised in the 1890s by Joseph Gornall, who worked for the county council and visited farms to establish a modus operandi still used today – the ‘Gornall method’. His ‘Gornall Patent Cheesemaker’ was sold between 1892 and 1919. Here’s the patent for it. The ‘Gornall method’ involves breaking and blending the curds which are then placed in a stone cheese press, turned, clothed and salted.
Creamy Lancs is matured for between four and 12 weeks. Its fluffy texture makes it ideal for toasting,since it does not become stringy when melted.
Tasty Lancs is matured for up to two years and is fantastic. Endless varieties from a plethora of cheesemakers are available on the county’s market stalls and increasingly at supermarkets. As an exiled northerner living in Kent for many years, I was eternally grateful to Sainsbury’s for stocking Grandma Singleton’s, a particularly strong type encased in red wax. This was used in sandwiches, jacket potatoes, pies and, having been simmered with fresh tomatoes, on toast.
Most Lancastrians have their own chosen brand, including Kirkham’s, Butler’s and many more but I was always a Singleton’s man. The firm, founded in 1934, the year my mother was born, was based in Longridge and apart from Grandma’s its products included Beacon Fell Traditional Lancashire PDO, Forest of Bowland cheddar and a brand of sheep cheese, Parlick.
Such was its popularity that visitors and even coach trips were welcomed to tour the premises. Tragically, before I got around to arranging a trip, Singleton’s went bust.
According to the Guild of Fine Food, it went into administration on August 23 last year due to the ‘effects of Covid-19, the rising costs of milk and other additional overheads’. Something else to thank the bogus pandemic for.
The Guild’s posting in October noted that ‘almost 70 staff were made redundant, with 12 kept on to wind down the business, but the collapse has also had repercussions for the wider industry. Singleton’s was the country’s largest producer of sheep’s cheese, buying milk from the farm group Sheep Milk UK to make Parlick, stocked in Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Booths. Its demise could have been a hammer blow for farmers, but the brand was acquired by Lancashire-based Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses last month.
‘Singleton’s was also a major exporter to the US, India and Europe, distributing its own products and cheeses from artisan producers including Quicke’s, Charles Martell, White Lake, Shepherd’s Purse and Barber’s. The company had also recently signed a deal with the Cahill family of Ireland to manufacture flavoured cheeses under the Cahill’s brand. “What’s happened to Singletons is incredibly sad and it’s a real loss to British cheese as a whole,” said Mary Quicke, owner of Quicke’s, whose cheddar was exported to Norway, Belgium and Germany by Singleton’s. “It was such a well-established company, doing good things for British cheese in terms of exports and supporting local dairy farms”.’
In the absence of my favourite tasty Lancs I was forced to seek solace elsewhere and I found a worthy substitute by the name of Mrs Rhodes, from Carron Lodge, based at Inglewhite, near Preston. However, on a recent visit to Booth’s supermarket in Clitheroe, I saw to my delight that Grandma Singleton’s was back on sale. The girl on the cheese counter said that Carron Lodge had taken over the brand and assured me it was identical to the original. And, Hallelujah! It is.
The third Lancs variety, crumbly, was created in the 1950s. It is matured for only six to eight weeks and is made from a single day’s milk. I’m afraid I can’t give a verdict on it because for me it’s tasty or nothing.
A few years ago we welcomed a group of TCW colleagues to our cottage and in search of appropriate party food I visited the food hall at Holmes Mill in Clitheroe. There I sampled a delicacy called Lancashire Tart, which was basically pork pie topped with cheese and black pudding beneath a pastry covering. It was sublime and went down a storm with our guests, as did a toothsome Cumberland sausage from Grahame Gordon of Carlisle. I have since struggled to source Lancashire Tart but here is a recipe (note that it doesn’t specify what type of Lancashire cheese to use – that’s southerners for you).
Wercome to Rondon
ONE of our prized possessions is a ‘souvenir of London’ mug bought for one euro from a Chinese supermarket on the Canary island of Fuerteventura. Among the attractions it lists are ‘The Thamas, Hyda Park and Waterloo Srarion’. So much for ploofleaders.
Old jokes’ home
A prostitute approaches a bloke in a bar and says: ‘I’ll do anything you want for £500 . . . as long as you can say it in three words.’ The chap takes out his wallet, puts £500 in her hand and says: ‘Paint my house.’
A PS from PG
My aim was to sneak in unobserved, and it seemed at first as though luck were with me. From time to time, as I slunk through the grounds, keeping in the bushes and trying not to let a twig snap beneath my feet, I could hear the distant baying of aunts, but I wasn’t spotted.
PG Wodehouse: The Mating Season