Traditional cheesemaking

We’ve just  thoroughly enjoyed watching The Courtyard Dairy’s Cheese Chat Video featuring Lancashire cheese maker Graham Kirkham talking about his family’s cheese making traditions. He describes how his grandmother passed on her cheese making knowledge to his mother and how, after years of cheese making he finds himself coming full circle with a return to the more traditional styles of cheese that his grandmother had been making all those years earlier.

This reminded us of an interview with Kit Calvert that we’ve had passed to us from an unidentified publication.

It’s titled ‘The King of Wensleydale’. We’ll be writing more about the crucial role that Kit Calvert played in saving the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes later, but for the moment it’s interesting to read what he had to say about traditional cheese making in Wensleydale:

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Shielings and summer pastures

Many of us will have happy memories of reading Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ published in 1881, where the young heroine joins her grandfather high in the Swiss mountains as he and young Peter look after a herd of milk goats grazing on the sweet Alpine pastures.

In the winter when the snows arrived, the goats were brought back down to the shelter of the valley bottom farms. This is an ancient practice known as transhumance where members of a community or farming family (often the youngsters) took their animals (cows mainly in the UK but also sheep and goats) some distance from the family farm to graze them on remote pastures during the summer months. They lived with their beasts, milking them daily and bringing the milk or cheese made up on the hills regularly back to the main farm or village.

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Early cattle farmers in Wensleydale

A really important part of the Dairy Days project will be investigating and recording the archaeological evidence for early cattle farming in Wensleydale. One of the most interesting sites we already know about dates to the Bronze Age (c. 2500 until c. 800 BC) and lies on Burton Moor.

The aerial photograph shows this fascinating site really clearly.

Burton Moor settlement

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Dairying folklore

We have been doing a little research into the superstitions surrounding dairying after we read this in Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby’s book ‘Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales‘:

“Mr J. Swales, born 1874, of Low Wood, near Pateley Bridge, remembers a family story of his grandfather, born about 1812, going to Ripon to see a wise woman because the butter would not come, and she gave him some horseshoe nails in a bottle to be buried in the churchyard. Similarly, Margaret Little of Lowlands, Askrigg, Wensleydale, used to put a poker across the top of her stand churn to keep witches away”
Hartley & Ingilby (1997 2nd ed p17)

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The First Dairy Farmers

We have historic records for dairying in Wensleydale going back to the medieval era but by that time people had already been milking cows, sheep and goats for thousands of years.

The very first farmers are associated with the Neolithic period. People were still using stone tools then, but they gradually stopped hunting and gathering their food and settled down to grow crops and farm animals. The first people to start farming lived in the so-called Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (read more in this article from ScienceMag.)

They domesticated wild goats and sheep and also wild cattle known as Aurochs around 10,500 years ago. Archaeologists studying a fascinating range of evidence believe that using the milk from these animals began almost immediately and over the following two thousand years, dairying spread, along with farmers from western Anatolia (modern Turkey) throughout northern Europe.

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Cheese fit for a Queen

Redmire Pastures 1910. With permission of The National Archives

One of our contacts has forwarded some excerpts from old Yorkshire newspapers about cheese making in Wensleydale. They date to around the turn of the last century and offer a fascinating insight into how seriously the manufacture of Wensleydale cheese and butter was taken locally.

One article titled ‘Blue Moulded Cheese’ dated 27th July 1911 quotes a gentleman called Mr John Benson writing in the Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association as follows:

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National Lottery players win cheese!

Our Dairy Days project is funded by both the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and most importantly, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

This means that if you play the lottery, then you are funding wonderful community projects like this one. We’re very keen to thank the people that contribute to our work so at last week’s Dairy Days launch event we presented a piece of delicious Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese to the first five National Lottery players who turned up with a recent ticket. We snapped photos of two of them!


Dairy Days Launch Event

Just a quick blog about the fantastic launch event we had this week. Lots of fantastically interesting people turned up with photos; memorabilia; stories and some excellent questions for us to investigate.

We took lots of photos and a couple of videos which we’ll share next week. In the meantime here are some pics of the lovely National Lottery players who turned up to claim their free piece of Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese. Congratulations and THANK YOU!


New Dairy Days logo

We are delighted to say that the project now has a easy-to-use logo designed for us by the talented Mike Lewis over at The Archipelago Leeds.

We sent him lots of ideas involving grass, buttercups, churn stands, old milk bottles and milk kits and in the end he chose the latter, along with a font based on one used on a local milk bottle.

Photo of an old milk bottle from collection at Dales Countryside Museum

The drops of milk spilling out also reminded us a little of buttercup petals.

Look out for the new logo appearing all over the place soon!


Dairy Days Project Launch

We are launching our new Dairy Days project on Tuesday 24 April, 10.30am to 3pm, at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

  • Was your family involved in dairying and have you got memories, photos or stories that you’d like to share?
  • Are you interested in finding out about archaeological sites, old buildings or even going on a dig?
  • Do you have dairying bygones you can tell us about? Come along and see some of the ones we have at the Museum
  • Do you make your own cheese, yoghurt or kefir? Share your favourite recipes, hints and tips
  • Do you run a visitor business selling, making or serving dairy-based food? We’d like to work with you!

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Dairy Days

Welcome to our new blog for the Wensleydale Dairy Days project.

Follow us over the next two years as we discover and celebrate the importance and longevity of dairy farming in this iconic valley.