Saturday, November 01, 2008

Say Cheese! (Part One)

Ask anyone what their favourite cheese is and they’re likely to say Cheddar. Well, they would. Cheddar’s the single most popular cheese in the world. However, running a close second place (the ‘cheese and onion’ to Cheddar’s ‘salt and vinegar’ if you like) would be Lancashire…we reckon.
At least, it would be if people had any sense, which for the most part they don’t, but that’s beside the point. Whatever the case, Lancashire cheese is certainly world famous despite the fact that the version they sell of it outside of Lancashire nowadays is pre-packaged, heavily processed and revoltingly bland swill.

If you want a real Lancashire cheese you have to travel to Garstang (or Fleetwood market…or anywhere else in Lancashire that sells the proper Monty) its birthplace, and yes, we are implying that Lancashire cheese has a life of its own. In fact, you haven’t tasted proper cheese until you’ve sampled a slice of Lancashire Blue (or, as Terry Pratchett would have it, Lancre Blue, a cheese so full of life that it follows his heroine around under its own steam for two of his books).

Cheese making, of course, could be found in Lancashire as far back as the 13th Century, and historical records attest to its popularity by the number of Lancashire cheeses being transported from Liverpool to London in the 1600’s.

Yet, Lancashire cheese as we know it today, (well…as us proper Lancastrians know it today…the rest of the world will just have to accept our boasts about how marvellous the genuine article is until they’ve been here and tasted it for themselves) hasn’t been around for particularly long.

That horribly crumbly stuff you get in most supermarkets was actually created about forty years ago when competition against other cheeses such as Wensleydale (more cheese Gromit?) demanded a less expensive and considerably quicker turnover. Originally, however, every farmhouse in the county produced cheese of a different texture, shape, colour and taste, depending on how many mice fell into their vats.

As we say, though, that was ‘originally’, before the early 1890’s when the hero of our piece, Joseph Gornall, appeared on the scene.

There he is, look, a local official (you’d never have guessed it, would you?) born in Cabus, with a passion for untamed facial-fungus and an uncanny resemblance to Rowan Atkinson. (No, seriously, that is him, although I might have added the ‘I Luv Cheese’ logo to his bowler hat.)

In his capacity as council steward appointed to standardise Lancashire cheese making practices (a job he took seriously enough to visit every farmhouse cheese manufacturer he could find, lodge with the family and stick his nose into their curds, so to speak) he invented the famous Gornall Lancashire ‘Cheese Maker’ (illustrated below).

The machines (the one above, incidentally, can be found in the Fylde Country Life Museum) were built by Singletons of Garstang and were available in three different sizes: Medium, Large and Massive. (This was obviously the standard measure by which McDonalds and KFC later started to name their side dishes.) By the 1900s the Gornall Cheese-maker had proved so successful that it was said: “The Cheese-maker is now used in most leading Lancashire Dairies and most of the Prize Cheese at the county and other local shows were made with them.”

Having completed his earthly mission Gornall retired to Smallwood Hey, Pilling, and died on March 25th 1928. There were no suspicious cheese-related circumstances connected to his passing.

Now, obviously not everyone could afford the Gornall Cheese-maker (even in its diminutive ‘medium sized’ package’) and, nowadays, they’re extremely difficult to get hold of. (Well, ‘rust-free and hygienically suitable’ they’re extremely difficult to get hold of at any rate.) For those pitiful Gornall Cheese-maker-less households the process of cheese making was somewhat more complicated. Here’s how it was done.

First milk was poured into a tub along with bacteria (don’t ask us…we got this information from the curators at the Fylde Country Life Museum so we’ve no idea how you capture a bacteria or even how you can tell which bacterium are good and which are bad) to increase the milk’s acidity.

When the correct acidity had been reached (and, again, we honestly don’t know how that figure is determined) ‘Rennet’ (pictured above in a typical contemporary stoneware jug) was added to the mix.

Rennet was a liquid created from the stomach membrane of an un-weaned calf. Ah yes…for all those vegetarians out there who like to take the morally superior upper hand with us carnivores that might be worth making a note of. ‘Nibble of cheese…one dead un-weaned calf.’ Ethically pure points scored – none.

In the 1870s standardised commercial rennet became available.

It was still made from dead baby cows though.

At which point (if there’s anybody left reading this) we’re going to take a break for no other reason than this article’s rather long so we thought that we’d make the most of it by stretching it out over a full week.


Anonymous said...

Ask anyone what their favourite cheese is and they’re likely to say Cheddar.

I like Edam cheese the most. It's very diplomatic.

Ethically pure points scored – none.

Unless you have 'vegetarian cheese' which contains no rennet...or failing that, become a vegan.

Those constables look too stereotypical to do any real police work.

Brian Hughes said...

"Unless you have 'vegetarian cheese' which contains no rennet..."

In which cse it's not proper's just old milk with no taste that costs a packet.

"Those constables look too stereotypical to do any real police work."

I think that applies throughout Lancashire.

Jayne said...

Wasabi Cheese
any King Island Blue
Very Rude Where's the Cheese ad bloopers HERE

Well, you did say "say cheese!" :P

Anonymous said...

Brian, if you've ever seen the British bobby clips I see on Youtube, you'll understand why they're so amusing. It takes nine of them to subdue one guy in one clip.

John said...

Finally, a blog devoted to cheese. Personally, I think you should have mentioned goat cheese, as well, and gone on to describe the various farmer's cheeses, and which ones work best in pasties, but perhaps another post.

They do make rennet free cheese for us veggies, and no, it is not bad. It may not crawl around the table like your Lancashirean cheese, but it ain't as bad as you say.

As for bacteria, anyone whose spent time in a kitchen can tell you the answer to that. You need a seed source from a good product to insure getting the right bacteria. To make homemade yoghurt, you add a glop of good yoghurt to your boiled milk. Presumably, to start off a batch of good cheese, you would use a glop of good cheese that was saved from your sarnie.

By the way, America has laws against importing living cultures from other places, so of course it's all done under the table, raising prices considerably. If you were to send me some good stuff, who would get in trouble... me for accepting it, or you for sending it under a false name while wearing false whiskers?

You know the address. :0)


Brian Hughes said...


"Trials were first conducted in 1998 when Ian Farquhar, a farmer from Winnaleah in North East Tasmania, offered some of his new crop of wasabi to trial in the cheese."

You know a cheese is going to be pungent when it ends up in the dock.


That's because most of our British bobbies are a bit overweight due to lack of activity. Once they've managed to waddle up to their criminals, however, they just have to sit on 'em.


"America has laws against importing living cultures from other places..."

That's because American culture's having enough difficultly surviving these days as it is. (Boom boom! Sorry...unfair I know and I've been doing far too much America bashing recently...but I couldn't resist it.)

John said...

Just send the cheese, and I'll be too much involved in enjoying it to seek revenge or recompense. :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Unfortunately I suspect it's illegal to send food through the post...especially second class (yes, I'm a skinflint)...and Garstang Blue, no matter how much you wrap it in lead, is still aromatic enough to attract the attention of the customs officers.

The Actor said...

Garstang Blue, yum yum.

Does this contain added dead calf to make so tasty ?

Cottage cheese...what's that all about ?

Ozfemme said...

King Island Brie is not cheddar.

I've undergone interventions because of my abuse of cheese.

I really don't want to talk about it right now.

Off to read the rest of the article.

Brian Hughes said...


If the old dairy farmers who told me about this stuff were being honest (and it's a bit difficult to tell with some of these Over Wyre farmers...they have an odd sense of humour) then yes, Garstang Blue probably does contain rennet.
As for cottage cheese, what it is, is a sloppy, lumpy, tasteless mess that purports to be cheese but is, in fact, more closely related to cat vomit. ( my opinion, I should add. I'm really not a fan of cottage cheese as you might have gathered.)


King Island Brie would be...brie...wouldn't it? And don't worry about your cheese abuse...we all have dark secrets in our past, although usually they don't involve a slab of Cathedral City, a pair of manacles and a red hot poker.

Anonymous said...

Once they've managed to waddle up to their criminals, however, they just have to sit on 'em.

And justice is served?

By the way, what do you think of Edam Cheese (I should have asked this earlier).

Brian Hughes said...


Justice is a dish best served with a side helping of those pickled gherkin things they put on McDonald burgers...because they're really nasty and that'll teach 'em not to do it again.

As for Edam...the stuff we get round here is the equivalent of the prepackaged international version of Lancashire I suspect...i.e. bland and meaningless. I'd have to try the real monty before I could pass judgement.

Anonymous said...

Too often, one's local supermarket stocks their shelves with sub-standard cheese. I've been meaning to chase them up on that.

Brian Hughes said...

That, and all the other manky overpriced produce...

Anonymous said...

Definitely. The worst supermarkets in the developed world are in Australia.

Brian Hughes said...

You've never been to ASDA in Fleetwood then...