In celebration of International Women’s Day, we have chatted with some of the most influential and inspiring women in cheese.
Caroline and Katie are the powerhouse sister team at Shepherd’s Purse Artisan Cheese, carrying on mum, Judy Bell’s, legacy of cheese making that began in the ‘80s.
Judy Bell started milking sheep on the farm in the late 1980s, with a mission to create products for cows milk allergy sufferers. After considering all options – yoghurt, ice cream, whole milk and cheese – Judy decided to focus on the cheese. Once she started cheesemaking it snowballed pretty quickly and became a real passion and obsession! Being mentored by a local master cheesemaker, Judy’s talent shone through. She made cheeses that really showed off the quality of the sheep’s milk. Then, as she progressed with her cheese making, she took on blue cheese.
Judy won their first Gold Award in 1989, with Olde York, at Nantwich International Cheese Show, and the awards have piled up ever since. Caroline and Katie have kept the focus on producing exceptional artisan hand made cheeses and winning awards, with, most recently, Harrogate Blue (a firm Cheese Cuisine favourite) winning Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards and being named in the top 15 cheeses in the world!
INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE
How and why did you get into cheese making?
I was 7, and my sister Katie was 9, when Mum started Shepherd’s Purse Artisan Cheese, so we grew up in and around milking and cheese making. Katie joined the business fully in 1997 and learnt cheese making and cheese production processes under Mum. Katie now leads production while I look after all the other elements of the business.
Who inspires you?
Mum inspires us – her approach to everything is empowering. She’s strong and determined and driven as well as hugely intuitive, caring and always leads with a desire to serve. She has a passion for life and nature which drives everything. She is at home around a table of the most powerful people discussing plans and deciding on the way ahead, and she is also no happier than when she has her hands in a vat of curds or the soil of her garden!
What are some of your favourite cheeses?
Choosing between our own cheeses is like choosing a favourite child. An important part of the development process here, and I think probably for most small cheesemakers, is that we ourselves love the cheeses that make it to the production stage – that’s a big reason as to how they make it. So our soft, creamy mellow blue cheeses are very much to our own taste, and we love the complexity and variety that comes from the differences between sheep milk, cows milk and water buffalo milk. Apart from our own cheeses, I really love, by way of contrast, nutty, meadowy alpine cheeses like Gruyere and harder cheeses like a mature Gouda. We have a lovely alpine type cheese made down the road from us at Botton Creamery, and the team at Lynher Dairy make a beautiful hard farmhouse cheese called Cornish Kern, made with alpine starters. You get beautiful sweet caramel notes and rich fresh pasture flavours – such a nice complexity.
Do you have a favourite recipe for one of the cheeses you make?
We have SO many recipes, from complex to simple – I’m a fan of simple! I love pasta with cheese and you can do all sorts with different and interesting combinations – its quick, easy and very satisfying. In the summer, salads offer similar ease and creativity. But also, there’s nothing simpler and quicker than cheese on toast. My cousin and aunty run a bakery, so fresh organic sourdough from their bakery, toasted, with a slice of Mrs Bell’s Blue melted on top, with a drizzle of honey and some toasted walnuts – heaven!
Shepherds Purse has grown organically through the years, expanding into cow and buffalo milk and now has a portfolio of nine cheeses. The dairy boasts a team of 35 passionate artisans led by the sisters, who are proud to remain an independent family business, making cheese in the traditional way on their farm in North Yorkshire.