Oral History Recording: Doris Harker

We were delighted to receive this interview conducted by Marjorie Iveson with 72-year old Doris Harker, because Doris turns out to be one of the last women remaining who made and sold farmhouse cheese in the northern Dales.

Doris Harker. Photo by Marjorie Iveson
Doris Harker. Photo by Marjorie Iveson

Doris was born and brought up at Pry House Farm near Keld in Swaledale and she learned her dairying-skills from her mother Mrs Clarkson:

“I would think that my mother would have made cheese back in the 1930s…her cheese would have been made for family and friends. I don’t know that she sold it. A lot of people who made cheese in the Dales, it was a farming income, and they did sell a lot of cheese and butter…yes, my mother made butter. And it was taken, some of the time, to a local public house, in Keld.”
Doris Harker (72), of Howe Hills Farm, nr Leyburn

Doris made her cheese during the 1960s, and then from 1971, after she got married and moved to Arkengarthdale:

“I got married in 1971, went over into Arkengarthdale and we carried on, just making cheese in summer, two or three a week. I sold t’guest houses.”

She was forced to give up after the introduction of hygiene regulations:

“I would be making cheese up until the end of the 1980s, when regulations didn’t allow cheese-making in farmhouses…it was hygiene. [What would you have needed to do to continue?]. More or less a separate room, or, well, they wanted stainless steel equipment and things…expense, and it wasn’t, then, going t’be just a ordinary farmhouse cheese.”

Illustration from 'British Dairying' (1948) by Frank H Garner
Butter making. Illustration from ‘British Dairying’ (1948) by Frank H Garner

The cows on Doris’ farm were northern dairy shorthorns:

“Shorthorns…after I left they would be Friesian cattle, but originally there was only more or less shorthorns in the Dales.”

It’s interesting to find out why it was that Mary continued making cheese well into the twentieth century when so many others stopped after the Second World War. It seems that it wasn’t economical for local dairies to send wagons to collect milk from ‘outlying farms’. In this audio clip Marjorie asks her about this and what the process of making cheese was.

They go on to discuss how long Doris would allow a cheese to mature before selling it:

“Entirely up t’the people. Not long if you wanted a new cheese, otherwise it could be stored for two or three month, perhaps longer.”

She usually gave her cheeses time to dry and would sell them at about a month old to local guest houses. It was just known as ‘farmhouse cheese’ apparently. She made it mostly when the cattle were outdoors:

“Mostly in summer when cattle were grazing. It was a different, softer cheese, and different pastures and fields made different tasting cheese…[What made a good cheese?] The pastures where the cattle are grazing, limestone pastures and cleanliness.”

One can only imagine how delicious her hand-made farmhouse cheese must have been. We wonder if the people staying in those guest houses knew just how special it was!

UPDATE: Doris continues to make cheese and is a keen exhibitor at local agricultural shows

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