We've had the pleasure of putting together some questions for Caroline Bell from award-winning, family business Shepherds Purse, who really are the forerunners for artisan cheese making here in Yorkshire. Find out about the Bell family journey to becoming one of the world's best cheese makers, their heritage, and Caroline's evergrowing (and much envied!) foodie travel experiences! Yes, outside of Yorkshire!
Your Yorkshire Story is well known to us, but can you share your journey to becoming one of the world’s best cheese makers!
It all began with our Mum, Judy Bell, who began with milking six sheep and experimenting with the milk on our family farm in the 1980s. She was inspired when she discovered more and more people were being diagnosed with cows milk allergy and those sufferers had very few tasty alternatives. Mum started experimenting with yoghurts and cheese. But when she was mentored by a local master cheesemaker called Les Lambert, her passion for cheesemaking was fuelled! One of her first cheeses, Olde York won a Gold medal at the 1989 International Cheese Awards which gave her a huge confidence boost. Since then, our company has grown, we became known for our speciality cheesemaking and so we added cows milk and water buffalo milk cheeses to our range. We've always been passionate about delivering consistently excellent cheese, so that you can have a good experience each time you buy, and we test ourselves with competitions. Our cheeses have won over 300 awards in total over the years, the most recent being two Super Golds at the World Cheese Awards in Oviedo, Spain, one for Harrogate Blue and one for Buffalo Blue. But as important as the awards is the consistency, and with artisan cheese, herein lies one of the biggest challenges.
The artisan British cheese industry has a rich history and is growing all the time, how important has heritage been for you in growing your brand.
Gosh, heritage is vital for speciality cheesemaking, in that we are custodians of an ancient craft which helped preserve calories over time in a delicious and enjoyable way! However, whilst it’s a very traditional process, we also like to put our own unique twist on things so we have tried to play with the rules and create our own unique products. Yorkshire Blue was the result of being inspired by french cheeses. In a broader sense, cheese making is an agricultural skill, tied closely to the land and the animals and heritage is so important in this. As much as new technology offers us insight and the opportunity to improve efficiency, we must ensure that we stay deeply connected to both the land and the animals and the food they produce in very real and honest way.
We know there’s so many processes and hard work behind the 300 tonnes of cheese that you produce each year, but we’re fascinated by some of the names and love the Yorkshire connections! Where do you find the inspiration – is a team effort?
Yes, absolutely. It’s the hardest part to be honest! Although some come quickly and feel completely right. Some are much much harder! Northern Blue is a good example of us struggling for months to get a name that felt right, and then when one of our team, Amy, came up with this one, it was like a lightbulb being switched on and it was just perfect!
Food heroes to many, who is yours?
Oooh we have many many local ones, but one slightly unusual one for the UK is Anthony Bordain. His approach to to food and travel was so rich and deep “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” – Anthony Bourdain. And then just anyone who embarks on the journey of sharing their passion for food by making their own product - invariably really interesting and passionate people.
What do you think makes Yorkshire such an abundant larder and gives it its strong connections to food and drink?
Our land, landscape, coastline and agriculture, our people. We have such rich diverse agriculture across the region and access to incredible fish from the coastline. And we’re of pretty independent character, so diversity is expected and encouraged from within in a way.
If not Yorkshire, where would you choose to live if based solely on its culinary offerings?
Ahh so many places I’m such a fan of travel and food and have fallen for a few places over time. I’ve become a huge fan of North West Spain and Northern Portugal, Lisbon, Porto, San Sebastian, and recently Oviedo in Asturias. Beautiful, local food. On place I haven’t been but want to go for the food scene is Cape Town in South Africa. And London has such a rich and diverse global food scene which makes it wonderful for culinary offerings!
And, I’m not sure that culinary offerings can be separated from everything else - the best food always exists in a context, in a community of some sorts, be that rural and closely connected to the land or urban and closely connected to culture, and always connected to the people. People who either produce it or take the produce and create dishes, and the other people who enjoy it with you.
Signature Yorkshire dish (yep, just one!)
Easy, classic Yorkshire Puddings, made by Mum.
Ultimate foodie experience – experienced yet or still on a wish list.
Gosh, so much still on the wish list, and it’s all about sharing the experiences. Travelling, exploring, learning, sharing and connecting with ourselves, each other, the food and where the food has come from. And then back to Anthony Bourdain - “I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.” – Anthony Bourdain
Being so inventive with flavour combinations (and cheese names!), is there anything new that you are working on that you’d like to share? Or tell us about your favourite product and how it came to be.
A cheese only makes it into our range if we all love it (or the majority of us love it) so we’re experimenting often, and we have plans to be able to do even more new cheese development - so watch this space!
Cranberry and Yorkshire Fettle Christmas Wreath
To get you all in the festive mood we have developed five new recipes in collaboration with Shepherds Purse. perfect to see you through the Christmas season. Find our Christmas wreath recipe here.