The perfect ingredient: Shepherds Purse Cheese

James Wellock travels to Shepherds Purse in North Yorkshire to find out more about the perfect British sheep cheese.

Shepherds Purse has been creating traditional handmade Yorkshire cheese since 1987 at its family-run farm off the beaten track in Newham, Thirsk.

When Judy Bell MBE spotted a gap in the market and decided to rear sheep for their milk to create an alternative to cow’s milk cheese, it was a brave move. But it ultimately paid off when Shepherds Purse Olde Yorke cheese won Gold at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards in 1989. The family company has since gone onto win over 250 cheese awards and is regarded as one of the UK’s leading independent cheese producers.

Today, Shepherds Purse is run by Judy’s two daughters Katie and Caroline who oversee all parts of the business. The workforce is made up of 20 people who all play a part in the production of 11 fine artisan cheese made from both sheep and cows’ milk. Although the business has grown over the years, it has stayed true to its family roots; cheese is hand-crafted using minimal technology and the company remains shy of mass production.

Milk is delivered and pasteurised and then a process called ‘culturing’ – where the ingredients are added to the milk and flavours are enhanced.
The next step is then gently hand cutting the curds, releasing the whey. The curds then are transferred into moulds and flavours and textures begin to form. A final ingredient is added ahead of ripening: salt. It is gently rubbed into each cheese by hand.
Blue cheese is left to ripen and is spiked creating the blue veins in the cheese. Then foiled, they are ready to turn – which means turning daily, and then weekly to distribute the moisture evenly. The truckles are then left to ripen for a number of weeks, before they are ready for dispatch.

Caroline says: “Humidity plays a huge factor in cheese making and getting the temperature right is key to creating the best bespoke cheese.”

Blue cheese is the speciality of Shepherds Purse, and lots of craft and dedication goes into each type of cheese – the team carefully hand-turn the cheese rounds weekly to enhance the flavours.

Two of the most acclaimed in its range are the Yorkshire Blue and Mrs Bell’s Blue. The Yorkshire Blue is a buttery, mild blue made from cow’s milk – and retains many of its original flavour notes whilst Mrs Bell’s Blue is made from sheep’s milk and has a more complex flavour.

Another renowned cheese is its Yorkshire fettle, a soft cheese made from sheep’s milk that was once called Yorkshire Feta, but had to change its name after a dispute over producing feta not in Greece. It is now known as Yorkshire Fettle, a name which has become more than memorable.

In 2013, musician and cheesemaker Alex James commissioned Shepherds Purse to produce his Blue Monday cheese. Shepherds Purse did not fail to deliver and created a complex creamy cheese with bold cracks and lovely streaks of blue.

Harrogate Blue is the latest addition, which is a soft blue with a hint of peppery spice and made from cow’s milk. It’s already won five awards and becoming hugely popular.

Shepherds Purse
Yorkshire Blue, Katy’s White Lavender, Blue Monday, Bell’s Bluemin White, Old Yorke, Yorkshire Fettle and Harrogate Blue are all available from Wellocks and can be ordered online now.