At our February MU meeting we welcomed ‘The Cheese Lady’ all the way from Leagram Organic Dairy in Chipping. This was Faye’s second visit to Tottington MU and there were several members present that were at her last talk. The meeting opened with our usual MU service and then it was down to business.

Faye and her mother, Christine, have been making cheese of all kinds for 23 years, but mostly they are famous for their Lancashire cheeses. They have won awards with their Creamy Lancashire. Until 10 years ago it was Faye’s father, Bob, who went from place to place giving talks, but when he died Faye and her mother decided they would carry on. Faye said her father was known for his ‘cheesy’ jokes and upon taking on the role she realised some amendments would be necessary.

Firstly, she poured some milk into what she described as a fish tank, and added something called a starter culture to put back good bacteria killed off during pasteurisation – approximately 2 oz. of cheese can be made from 1 pt. of milk.
Faye passed around a mother culture that she had been growing for 6 months for us all to smell; apparently, these cultures are the cheesemakers’ secrets, which they are not prepared to divulge as they give the cheese distinct flavour and texture.

Following the addition of the culture, a natural food colouring was added followed by the rennet. Rennet comes from a milk-fed calf’s stomach lining, but vegetarian alternatives are also available. Faye passed a bottle of rennet around so we could all experience its distinctive odour.

Faye had several humorous anecdotes to tell of her life as a cheesemaker. For instance, she was only 19 when her father told her that he was double-booked and that she would have to give the talk in Lancashire while he made the journey to Cornwall. Not only was she dropped in at the deep end, but he took with him the proper demo kit, leaving Faye with a dodgy hotplate which blew the fuse in the hotel’s electrical circuit. The hotel was often catering for guests such as Dame Shirley Bassey, and the local press were soon on the scene. One way of getting publicity for one’s cheese I suppose!

The next stage of cheese making occurs when the milk-mass becomes a solid; this is known as junket and in days gone by was given to children who were recovering from illness. Junket is smooth and creamy in texture and, although less common in the North, is often served with fresh fruit to make a dessert in the South-West. Next, the junket is sliced up to begin the separation of the curds and the whey. Faye said she was very fortunate that for her 30’s birthday her mother sourced her an old fashioned rectangular egg slicer with a handle at a bring-and-buy sale; this was a very useful tool for slicing the junket. Having received an iron and ironing board for her 40th birthday, Faye cannot wait for her 50th.

Once the junket has been sliced up sufficiently it is wrapped in a fine net, which enables all the liquid (or whey) to be separated from the solid (or curd) when squeezed. There is no waste, as the whey is fed to the pigs to help fatten them up. In America, however, the curd is the by-product and the whey protein is put into many different food products – over here it can be seen on the shelves of Holland & Barrett and is particularly important for athletes who want to gain muscle-mass and strength while losing fat.

Finally, salt is added to help with moisture-retention and flavour as well as preservation, which it does by slowing down the formation of bacteria. The curd is then placed into a mould and pressed for 24 hours before being knocked out and set aside to mature. Some cheeses are also set into a food-grade paraffin wax for the duration of the maturing process.

The evening ended with the opportunity to purchase a selection of cheeses which was very well supported. Sadly, Faye and Christine decided to close the business at the end of January so this was one of their last talks. Chris Jupp thanked them both for a very interesting evening and wished them well for the future.