Tell us a bit about you
I married a local boy (from Whitby) and I have 2 children, one in their 20s and the other in their 30s, both happy and settled and those are the important bits. I have lived in the countryside all my life, and had horses, hens, ducks, I have bred rare breed Shetland sheep, and have large black pigs, three alpacas, and enjoy leading a country life.
For about twenty years, I worked for a family owned independent supermarket group, where I was the director of buying and distribution until I had my daughter in my late 30s. Having already gone through the trauma of finding child care and nurseries 10 years before when our son was born, it was a crazy time, and I honestly don’t know how me and husband survived it. We made the decision that we were going to be blessed with another child and from that point, I was a stay at home mum.
My mum in law taught me to make cheese. My husband’s great grandfather’s family were dairy farmers further up the coast, pre and post World War 1. They had a milk round, and the women in the family would have made butter and cheese – that is where that knowledge came from.
Cheese has always been something made for family occasions. We used to walk to the local dairy farm and back with a full bucket of raw milk – you just could not do that these days. My mum in law was the most amazing cook who had lived and travelled all over the world, she would always offer you a cup of tea and by the time the tea appeared, there would be a fresh batch of scones on the table
I find myself a woman of a certain age, with lots of time on my hands and as the kids have grown up and gone off doing their own things, I have always made cheese, in the same way as I bake cakes, I just found myself getting more and more involved in it.
My kitchen was not big enough, it was like serendipity, sometimes things just happen. I heard from friends that a new local herd of Jersey cows had landed in the area. It is such a lovely source of milk, then all of a sudden there was a little place that was ideal, right in the heart of Whitby in a Grade 2 listed building, on the east side just below Whitby Abbey overlooking the harbour. I can see steam trains coming in and out, and other way I can see the Abbey. There are a lot worse ways of spending your time in Whitby.
I leased the unit, arranged my source of milk and I have just finished my second year of
trading commercially. My customers have been amazing, so supportive, but my issue was that I could not make enough of it and quickly enough, because I am maturing the cheese for months. I also did not have enough ageing space to mature cheese, at the end of 2017, the little unit next door became available, so I took that, knocked it through, and got it fitted it out. When I first started, a food writer came to see me, she came in and described my dairy as not much bigger than an average bathroom. Now I have lots of ageing space, so I don’t have to worry about where I keep the cheese. On the downside, larger premises more cleaning! Now in 2018 I know (fingers crossed) I can keep up with supply, I have just finished having a little cheesemobile built. It is a 30
year old classic vehicle, fitted out with refrigeration. I like to go out and sell direct to my customers but have always struggled until now to have enough cheese, I do events like summer shows and Christmas markets.
What do you make and why?
I make a semi-hard Tomme style cheese. I make this because it is what I know how to make and I work with my Jersey milk. I said to myself, you start off with a fabulous raw ingredient, don’t mess it about and you should make a good cheese.
I make a version with a blend of seaweed running through it, called Sandsend after a tiny village 2 miles up the coast from Whitby where my husband’s family lived. I also
make Whitby Jet, made to a traditional cheddar recipe which I mature and hand wax. One of the benefits of making small batches is that I can be very flexible in what I make. Last year I wanted to make a cheese to celebrate Le Tour de Yorkshire coming to Whitby, and ‘Yorkshire Jersey’ was born. It’s infused with saffron so gloriously golden in colour with just a sprinkling of toasted pink peppercorns to balance the saffron. It’s proved very popular so is now on the ‘to do’ list all the time. At this time of year I’m always very busy early mornings picking fresh nettle leaves to wrap my ‘summer cheese’ St.Hild’s.
I make the cheese that I enjoy and that I feel can make reasonably well. One of life’s great lessons is patience: you tweak something, and then you have to wait for months and months. It won’t be rushed, it will do what it will do, and it is well worth the wait for a cracking cheese.
My retailers, restaurants and hotels who take it have been amazing and stuck with me from day one and in the early days of production had to wait for the cheese to be ready. I probably would not make a soft cheese because my heart would not be in it: I like doing what I do and I want to make that fantastic cheese every time I make it. I still get pleasure out of seeing the batches and knowing it is ok.
Tell us about your dairy
I have my cheese vat and an amazing husband who can make, build and mend anything – he built my cheese vat. It takes 500 litres. I love cheese making but when I get to the point when that curd needs to come out, I know there is a difference between the first lot that comes out and the last lot but I want it to be consistent, so if I had a larger vat, this could be an issue.
I have lots of double sinks and draining, a couple of work tables, a cheese press my husband built for me. When something is made for you, you get something that works for you. A lot of white wall panelling, white tiles, lots of hand wash facilities, towel dispensers, a cleaning dispenser. I batch pasteurise.
My vat works well, the press works, maybe if the knees worked a bit better to turn cheeses on the lower shelves in the maturing room, that would make life easier – but I am very happy with my dairy and the additional ageing room is an absolute joy. When your dairy is only little, you can afford to make it right; it is important when you are working in your dairy by yourself that it is right and it works for you, even down to having really good lighting that makes you feel good, the right type of air – I have climate control with an ioniser which makes the air lovely and fresh.
How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheesemaker
I could not say if the industry has changed, I only have 2 years’ commercial experience: I am just a little person here in Whitby making the cheese that she loves. From day one, I have been a member of the SCA, I read everything they send out, I am current and up to date with HACCP and all regulations.
As far as advice goes, you have to love cheese making, because it is not a job, you would not do it if it was a job, because it is a huge commitment, your work has just started when you have made, then you have a whole length of time where you could potentially destroy what could be a beautiful cheese.
It is a day after day job, a bit like kids growing up. You have to enjoy what you are doing and I love that satisfaction when I see a batch of new cheeses and I look forward to seeing them age.
It is hard work, I don’t think people realise it can be quite physical, your time is not your own, the cheese dictates. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it because you won’t put the work in and you will end up disappointed. It is relentless, once you start the ball rolling, there is always something; as a little one woman band I always have a list of things to be doing.
You go on cleaning for ever, it has got to be safe, got to be clean – people don’t realise. People don’t understand that at the end of the day everything is washed, sanitised, put away, then there is a huge pre-production schedule to go through again. You have to be quite methodical, you can’t rush it, you must follow the processes and procedures, if you skip things, things go wrong. Anybody could make a cheese but without paying a lot of attention, you would not be able to repeat it and be consistent.
Where can we find your cheese?
I am very small and very local, my stockists in Whitby been with me since day one; you can find my cheese in the amazing craft baker Bothams who have just celebrated their 150th birthday, they’re the stockists in Whitby, the village stores in Sandsend, Hunters of Helmsley, Cedar Barn farm shop at Pickering and some really great restaurants and hotels including a Michelin starred chef, Andrew Pern at The Star in the Harbour. I am proud that AA 2 rosette Estbek House was my first restaurant. I have not gone out actively hunting for customers because I was worried that I could not service them.
Favourite cheese making music?
Radio 4 is on in the background all the time, just love it, can’t be doing with banging music, I need calm. Sometimes making cheese by yourself in your dairy can be quite isolating, when I listen to the radio, I feel that I am attached to the real world.
Name: Elizabeth, Whitby Cheese
Thanks for your time, Elizabeth, it was great talking to you, really enjoyed it. A good deal of your thoughts resonated with me, as a (mostly) fellow hard cheese maker.
Are you a small cheese maker or do you know anyone who is, who would like to talk to Ribblesdale Cheese – if so, please reply below!
Coming up next time is Sophie from Sheffield Cheese Masters