Meet The Maker – St James
Meet our newest Maker… the geniuses behind St James Cheese! As part of our Meet the Maker series, focusing in on some of our favourite artisan suppliers, we’re super excited to introduce master Cheese Makers and brand new addition to our deli counter – Martin & Nicola of Holker Farm.
Martin has spent most of his life in the food industry. As a young boy he’d head to markets with Dad to produce, but it was the cheese that really grabbed his attention – so he set off on a mission to create amazing cheese. He learnt from some of the best in the business (including Mary and Graham of Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire fame), focusing on provenance and truly artisanal cheese. Once he had the knowledge and tools to make the go of it, he set up at Holker Farm in Cartmel (the Southern Lake District) with his partner Nicola and they began producing something wonderfully unique.
Great Milk Makes Great Cheese
Free to roam the farm’s diverse pasture, the Ewe’s milk truly reflects their diet and the seasons. The small flock of Lacaune (the same breed used to make rich Roquefort cheese) is milked just once a day, in the early morning. By 8:30am the cheese making has begun, while the milk is still warm.
Traditional is Best
For Martin and his small team, the traditional methods are best and so pasteurisation was out of the question. But Martin wanted to go one step further. He didn’t like the idea of buying commercial start cultures so decided to make his own – he’s one of only a handful of cheesemakers in the UK to do this.
This more old fashioned method involves choosing his best few sheep, hand-milking and then culturing their milk, before checking each soured milk for flavour and the right acidity. The very best is chosen and used as a culture to make St James for the season.
Once the culture is added to the fresh milk, the curd is cut and stirred by hand. The curds are land ladled into moulds, allowing the whey to drain away and St James’ square shape to form. They’re turned, then salted and kept in a warm room – to allow the natural yeasts in the dairy air to colonise the cheese.
Over the next few weeks, the cheeses are regularly washes in brine, to encourage the pink-orange rind that gives this rich, soft cheese it’s distinctive flavour. With such small scale cheese making (Martin and his dairy manager Niall make between just 18-24 St James cheeses a day), things are very fluid.
The temperature inside the dairy, outside in the fields, as well as what the flock are munching on, can all affect the outcome of this artisanal treat. They’ve recently been playing with a hard cheese (a reaction to Covid lockdown and the change in some customers requirements – soft cheese just doesn’t last as long) and some stunning soft goat’s cheese.
The joy of making everything by hand, is they can adapt and experiment easily.
We’re obviously biased, since we’re based in Cumbria too, but this really is some of the best cheese we’ve ever tasted. If you fancy a true taste of the terroir of Southern Cumbria, then you can’t find much better than St James!
Fancy a taste? You’ll find St James in our Cheesemonger’s Giftset here.