From Mordor to the Shire probably seems an unfair analogy to members of the M62 Appreciation Society, but leaving the motorway and dropping into Lincolnshire across the Humber Bridge gave the distinct impression that the heavy industry in my rear view mirror hadn’t yet found a way of fording the cold grey waters. Once into the rolling chalk hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the only nods to modernity were the far off sentinels spinning their energy from the North Sea winds. I arrived beside the clean red brick and polished glass of Ulceby Grange Farm, home to Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, with a pace of heart much becalmed from that at my Manchester gig the night before. I took a moment before my meeting and tapped ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ into my phone to discover its meaning, as from my map I had noticed that a number of pubs shared their name with the now legendary producer of pressed curd I was here to see.
When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire,
Full well I serv'd my master, for more than seven year,
Till I took up to poaching, as you shall quickly hear.
These opening lines of the eighteenth century folk song “The Lincolnshire Poacher” came back to mind during my visit with Tim Jones, fourth generation at the farm. Their recipe was created after his brother Simon visited cheddar dairies in the West Country in the early nineties and returned to make cheese using the farm’s milk. (That’s where the poacher comparison ends, as the unique recipe he concocted was markedly different from Cheddar, with a texture closer to Alpine hard cheeses.)
Tim had generously agreed to help us with some commercial questions I had for Gimblett Cheese (a little poaching of my own), but those were quickly dealt with and I settled back in my chair in the farm’s imposing near-baronial office, its high timber ceiling capping aromas from the wood burner and coffee machine, and listened to Tim telling me about his farm. I wanted to learn just what it was that made a cheese producer great.
Was it the milk? The 6000 litres from their 230 Holstein Fresians, almost all destined for the dairy’s range of cheeses, are milked in a clean, ordered environment. A well-tended farm has a sweet smell. Or was it the ancient cheddaring process – taking the milk, here unpasteurised, crafting it into a dry curd, piling it in slabs, milling it into chip size pieces, then pressing it in 20kg cylinders for 36 hours (commercial cheddar being made in vast blocks)? Or maybe it was the cheese’s extended aging on wooden shelves in the dairy’s cool cellars, most released at 18 months, though some matured for up to two years if considered worthy.
After listening to Tim and seeing their impressive setup, I realised that the reason for their success was none of these but rather the team’s unwavering desire to better understand the infinite variables that cheesemaking can present, coupled with a drive that compels them to improve on every process, every day.
After all, to be a good poacher you need to be a step ahead of those about you to take the prize.
Lincolnshire Poacher tasting note:
Texture: Friable, tender crumble under thumb. Nose: Ripe mushroom, nuts & light cream. Palate feel: Balance between crumble and a creamy back palate. Palate taste: Pleasing bite mid-palate, with a savoury procession of piquant dried fruits, wild mushroom and nut.
For details on where to experience Lincolnshire Poacher: