Today, I bring you a cheese born of long-ago love on the farm. Yes, yes, I know that I did cheesy romance on Valentine’s Day but when I read the family story behind today’s cheese, I got a little wibbly. First, let me set the scene a little with some Thomas Hardy (and for anyone who moans and wants to skip to the cheese part, I’m an English literature graduate, just count yourself lucky I don’t do this every week):
“They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting them into the vats. The operation resembled the act of crumbling bread on a large scale; and amid the immaculate whiteness of the curds Tess Durbeyfield’s hands showed themselves of the pinkness of the rose. Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful, suddenly ceased, and laid his hands flat upon hers. Her sleeves were rolled far above the elbow, and bending lower he kissed the inside vein of her soft arm.”
Phewee. (And at this point I should say that if you’re the person who came to my blog on Wednesday night having Googled ‘cheese soft porn’, the next bit of the blog is going to leave you sorely disappointed.) Onto the cheese; here it is in its ‘immaculate whiteness’, Parlick Fell:
Parlick Fell is a hard, pasteurised sheep’s milk cheese made by Grandma Singletons near Preston in Lancashire. The name of the dairy comes from ‘Grandma’ Duillia Singleton, who started making cheese in the early twentieth century. And this is where it gets a bit Catherine Cookson.
Duillia’s mother was called Mary Jane Bleasdale and was the daughter of a very wealthy brass foundry owner. When Mary Jane fell in love with ‘just’ a local farmer, Daddy was less than chuffed and the family disowned her. (Get some tissues for the next bit). The family website says that ‘On her wedding day, her mother sent a maid to the scrap pile where all the rejected brass objects were piled up awaiting smelting. The maid was tasked with choosing a wedding gift from the scrap and she selected a broken pair of brass candlesticks. Duillia’s grand-daughter Dewy still has these candlesticks today which have been repaired with blue tack.’
Fortunately however, the union was to prove more successful than that of Tess and Angel and Duillia was born in 1879, one of eleven children born to the farming sweethearts. When she was in her twenties, she took a course in cheese-making at a local dairy school and, as well as producing six children herself, she began to make cheese in a shed which proved so popular that eventually she was taking milk from most of the neighbouring farms. Four generations later, Grandma Singletons, as well as specialising in Lancashire Cheese, make more than 30 types, including other territorials like Cheshire and Wensleydale and blends which range from traditional Sage to downright racy Jalapeno and Garlic, and they export to 30 countries across the globe.
Sheep’s cheese is a relatively new venture for the dairy. They used to keep some cows but, when the Milk Marketing Board shut up shop, they sold their milk quota and therefore their cows too (milk quotas were introduced by the EU to try and control rising milk production; the quota represents the maximum quantity of cow’s milk which a farmer may sell in a year). They still wanted to put the land to productive use but are rather hilariously quoted as saying ‘We’d seen the rise in popularity of goat’s milk products, but I said, “We’re not doing bloody goats, because they stink.”’ So sheep it was. Sheep produce far less milk than cows and so they encouraged other local farmers to take up sheep (rather fortunately as their sheep contracted a disease and so they quit sheep-farming in the end).
The sheep all graze within eight miles of the dairy, on Parlick Fell (hence the name), a rough, treeless, upland region but with great grass due to the soggy climate. Sheep’s milk is a seasonal product, as they don’t breed all year round. When the days become shorter in autumn sheep become fertile and so from about October through to March (when the leggy little lambs all start heralding spring) they don’t produce milk. Parlick Fell, however, is aged for up to a year and so doesn’t go out of season like some fresh sheep’s cheeses do.
Parlick Fell is snowy white in colour and smells inoffensively cheesy, like a dairy at the start of the day. Its texture is soft and creamy, perhaps a tiny bit crumbly but it’s eminently sliceable. It’s got a creamy taste and whilst it’s not as lanolin-y as, say, a manchego there’s a definite salty sheepy edge to it. With romance the theme of today’s post, I’ll leave you with this rather apt description of it, by The Courier Press: ‘It is tangy and juicy and creamy, as if a nice, gentlemanly white cheddar married a delicate young feta.’ Aw.