Cheese competitions – now and then

We were lucky enough to visit two large cheese competitions recently, at the Great Yorkshire Show and at Nantwich Agricultural Show, the latter being one of the largest in the world.

Nantwich Cheese Show 2018

The range of cheeses on display was quite remarkable and the chance to go round all the producer stands and try samples was brilliant.

Of course, pretty much all the cheese in these modern competitions comes from commercial cheese-makers. Things were quite different in the nineteenth century, when the makers of farmhouse cheeses competed for cash prizes at Cheese and Butter Shows such as this one held in Leyburn in 1890.

York Herald 1890

We noted in our blog post ‘Women in the Dairy’ how surprising it was that most of the winners listed in the 1890 competition were men. It seems that although the wife, daughter or dairymaid was actually making the cheese, the male farmer who managed and milked the cows took the credit. Notice the name of one of the winners of the farmer’s butter class for best three 24oz rolls class – a Mr William Bushby of Swinithwaite – we’ll see that family name appear later.

The Victorian-era Cheese and Butter Show in Leyburn was in fact a revival of earlier competitions and it has an interesting history which we explored in more detail in our blog post ‘Cheese fit for a Queen’.

By the middle of the twentieth century, cheese was no longer being commercially produced in the farmhouse dairy. Nearly all production had moved into factories by the end of the Second World War. But women continued to pass the skill of cheese-making down the generations and agricultural shows large and small featured ‘home-made’ cheese in their produce competitions well into the twentieth century.

Annie Hugill with a batch of farmhouse cheese made by Mrs Thompson, Skelgill, 1938. Courtesy of Christine Hallas

At the Dales Countryside Museum, we have on loan a set of four magnificent trophies won by a woman from Swinithwaite called Mrs Edith Bushby. We have to assume that the William Bushby we saw in the 1890s competition mentioned above was a relative.

Cheese competition trophies won by Mrs Edith Bushby

The trophy on the right is the Ralph Daykin Trophy from the now-defunct Aysgarth and District Floral and Industrial Society Annual Show which Mrs Bushby won outright in 1956. We have a clipping from the Darlington & Stockton Times (D&S) dated August 18, 1956 which tells us the following:

“A feature of the show was the winning outright, of the Ralph Daykin cup for the best Wensleydale cheese. Some of the older members recalled that the late Mr. Daykin, who farmed at Ballowfield, won the cheese cup outright some 17 years ago, but replaced the trophy with another, which was won by Mrs H. G. Bushby, of Swinithwaite, who had won it in 1928, in 1930 and in 1931. In 1929 she gained two first prizes but not the cup, otherwise she would have won it outright in 1931. The judge for the produce section, Mr. E. S. Tennant, of Middleham, had high praise for the winning exhibit. He described it as ‘a first class home made farm cheese, which is blue moulding naturally’…Mrs Bushby was especially pleased that she had won the cup, as the late Mr. Daykin was a relative of hers”.

Here she is along with her daughter Yvonne at the show with the trophy she waited so long to win outright and of course, one of the winning Wensleydale cheeses.

On loan to the Dales Countryside Museum

Local historian Sally Stone added another element to the story when she told us that her mother who farmed in Walden knew Mrs Bushby. Sally also had a hand-written copy of Mrs Bushby’s cheese-making method, recorded by another local historian called Jane Ritchie who interviewed her several years ago.

Courtesy of Sally Stone & Jane Ritchie

Sally has made a transcription of Jane Ritchie’s handwritten note as follows:

Courtesy of Sally Stone

It’s interesting to note that Mrs Bushby says she did not use rennet, just a bacterial culture or starter which we believe she said was Danish (not ‘David’ as transcribed).

Sally also shared these newspaper clippings with us. They show a Mrs Annie Wallace receiving the Daykin cup at an earlier Aysgarth Show on behalf of her mother Mrs W. Thwaites of Walden.

D&S Aug 1953. Courtesy of Sally Stone
D&S Aug 1953. Courtesy of Sally Stone

As a final aside – notice the man to the left of the photograph above – a Mr J Furnish – 90 years old at the time. Is he related to the man who we found was farming at Spickles in 1941 in our blog ‘A dairy farm called Spickles’?

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