Say cheese please! Lockdown appeal from leading Lancashire traditional cheesemaker

Please say cheese please! Leading Lancashire cheesemaker Graham Kirkham has spoken out on behalf of his industry urging customers to keep buying locally produced  farmhouse produce.

Graham Kirkham with Mrs Kirkham's famed traditional Lancashire cheese
Graham Kirkham with Mrs Kirkham's famed traditional Lancashire cheese

Graham, proprietor of the award winning Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese, saw sales of his famous traditional farmhouse cheese plunge from 120 10Kg cheeses to just nine in the first week of the Coronavirus lockdown.

He says much of his business, supplying specialist food outlets, disappeared overnight and he knows he is not alone. He said: “It’s only when something like that happens you realise how vulnerable you are. It’s not just me. When I speak it’s on behalf of all artisan farmer/cheesemakers.”

Now he is fighting back - opening his own farm shop, arranging postal deliveries and calling for public support for his produce and that of similar artisan food producers.

Graham, of Beesley Farm, Mill Lane, Goosnargh, warned: “There’s a lot of history and heritage and we don’t want it to disappear.”

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He said has been delighted by the response of local residents to his hastily opened farm shop, He said: “I’ve always done Farmers’ Market and food festivals an fairs. There’s nothing happening... We’ve turned our packing room into a little farm shop.”

It is not just cheese he is selling. Other suppliers he knows quickly made contact to ask could their produce be sold at the shop too. So now Graham is selling olives, bread from Bleasdale based Lovingly Artisan baker Aidan Monks, specialist bacon and cured meats from a Cumbrian farm and coffee from a Keswick supplier.

The new farm shop is open from 9am to 5pm with a lot of the additional fresh produce being delivered in time for the peak selling days of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Graham said they will also deliver locally within a 10 mile range including to Longridge, Garstang, Broughton and Fulwood.

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He has been heartened by the way traditional cheese outlets such as Neal’s Yard in London’s Covent Garden and The Courtyard at Settle, both of which he supplies, have encouraged customers to keep on ordering. He said: “If we don’t support these amazing companies and delis and keep buying from them then they will disappear and we’ll have nowhere to sell to. We have to keep this chain going.”

The need to support the industry has also been highlighted by TV chef Jamie Oliver while food writer Jenny Linford put out an appeal on social media. He had told her of his anger that “40 years of cheesemaking on this farm could be taken away with a click of the fingers”.

For farmer producers there are he stressed, few ways to cut costs. Two of his staff have been put on furlough, he sold a few cows and dried a few off. But many costs remain: “Our work on the farm is just the same. Our expenses are just the same. You’ve still to feed your animals. Vets need to come to them and spring is an expensive time on a farm - buying a lot of fertiliser, doing a lot of field work which uses a lot of fuel, buying crops. We’ve an expensive time doing the field work to set up the fields right to grow forage. All that doesn’t stop. You can’t stop it ... it’s livestock. That soon creates a big void when you’ve all that and you don’t sell your cheese for a week. It’s how long is this going to last? Nobody knows what is going to happen.”

Initially, as demand from food outlets including restaurants, gastro pubs and cafes ended, cheeses were being sent back to Graham, who sells mostly through a specialist wholesaler. Thankfully he says he has seen some surge in demand following publicity about the plight of cheesemakers.

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Fortunately his cheeses will keep for a year and he estimates he can keep producing cheeses for another month or so before running out of storage space.

* Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese is a stocked locally by Booths supermarkets. Graham’s farm also supplies Waitrose and Harrods.