A proper English breakfast comes to mind when I think of Kirkham’s Lower Beesley Farm located in England’s Lancashire County. It may be odd that the cheese is not my first thought, but all of my cheese memories are linked to special events, and my first proper English breakfast took place in Ruth Kirkham’s kitchen in 2000. Breakfast was served after the morning’s cheesemaking activities and before the cheese went into the molds. Indeed, this breakfast was an event. Eggs, blood sausage, bacon, toast, beans, tomatoes — it went on and on — plus coffee and juice.
This breakfast is as much a tradition at the Kirkham’s as the milking and cheesemaking. By the time breakfast is served there’s been what many would think of as a full day’s work with tending the cows and cheesemaking.
In reality this breakfast was only a late morning break. The memories of that first breakfast linger in my mind, as does the smell of bacon cooking and Mrs. Kirkham’s story of learning how to make cheese from her “mum.” Mrs. Kirkham took over the cheesemaking in 1978 from her mother, who made cheese during World War II and took it up full time again from 1967 to 1977.
Mrs. Kirkham has passed the knowledge and skills of raw-milk cheesemaking onto her son Graham, a third-generation producer. When I first met Graham he was a young mechanic specializing in rally cars and a skilled “shooter” (a marksman and hunter). In 2000 he had just moved back to Lancashire County and was busy polishing his cheesemaking skills and working on modernizing the dairy (did I mention he was a nifty mechanic?). A new maturation room had been installed on the back of a refrigerated truck that was formerly used to deliver fast food.
Even with this modernization, the cheese production using raw milk and traditional rennet was as it has been for decades — with the curds left to rest in the cheese room before being added to the current days’ make. And the milking parlor, for the most part, has also remained the same through the years. Milking approximately 85 Holstein-Friesian cows at any single time, John Kirkham, Mrs. Kirkham’s husband and himself a generational farmer, lovingly looked after the herd with the pride and respect that only a dairy farmer is able.
The milk was gently pumped a few yards away into the cheese room where the cheesemaking process began.
When I returned to the farm this past November, I saw that the farm has matured and with the changing of the guard, has evolved just a bit. There is a new cheesemaking and maturation building, and John has recently transitioned the care of his herd to others. However, the tradition and love of the cheese remains the cornerstone of production; and the proper English breakfast is still a ritual on the farm.
What’s more, Lancashire cheese is still among the tastiest in production in the UK.
The clothbound cheese is rubbed with butter prior to being placed in the maturation room. It’s crumbly with citrus notes and a pleasant finish. I like to call it the “Proper English Cheese” and always look forward to its arrival in the US. While Lancashire is great any time of year, for me, the fresh and bright qualities of the cheese really shines in the spring. Watch Graham take us through the cheesemaking process:
Graham is still an avid “shooter” and a darn good one too, having won the cheese shooting contest! This is an event where bad cheese is put to proper rest. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest. Over the past ten years Graham has grown into a charming and charismatic man who is fun-loving and dedicated to preserving the memories on his family’s land. He loves serving Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese on toast slightly broiled with a fresh tomato slice on top.
I think that meets all of my criteria for a tasty treat! Thank you Graham and the Kirkham’s gang for the great cheese and working with us all these years to get the best cheese to our stores everyday! And thank you Ruth and John for the great history and for preserving life on the family farm.