Women in cheese-making

By Claragh Nugent

Mar 7, 2022

Women in cheese - making - St Jude

Women - some of the most powerful, successful, courageous and intelligent people to walk on earth, as Beyonce once said, “who run the world, girls”. However, as cheesegeekers, we can’t help relate everything back to the tasty yellow stuff, and that includes chatting all about women in cheese (it’s the new women in STEM).

Women have always played such a crucial role in cheese-making, where (similar to many things) they have held a place in the heart of the tradition, as the making itself was seen as ‘women’s work’.. ( we know, we know, this isn’t a phrase we’d ever use today). Seeing as cheese-making itself takes a lot of care and attention, given the time milk needs to curdle and efforts necessary to turn cheeses (but that’s a story for another day) etc, women could attend to other chores whilst also creating our favourite dairy product. Classic multi-taskers. 

Following the Second World War, cheese-making took a serious change in Britain, many smaller farms shut-down across the UK, to make way for increased mass cheddar production, seeing as it was a cheese that could be rationed easily, without wastage being a concern. Sadly, and trust me, this breaks our hearts even now, the majority of the farms never reopened, so most of the producers never made cheese again. Despite this, over the years, small-scale farmhouse cheese has been revived, many due to courageous, talented women, who have shown the same diligent spirit as their ancestors. Now, to get into some wonderful women we know personally, in the incredible world of cheese.

Judy Bell (Shepherds Purse) - We are lucky enough to supply four of Judy Bell’s beautiful blues - Yorkshire Blue, Bluemin WhiteBuffalo, Harrogate, Mrs Bell’s and Northern Blue. Judy discovered her passion and genuine gift for cheese-making in the 1980’s, when she set out to create quality dairy alternatives for cow’s milk allergy sufferers - a true queen. In 1989, Judy won a Gold award at Nantwich International Cheese Show and in 2017, Harrogate won a Super Gold at the World Cheese awards, being named one of the top 15 cheeses in the world. Today, Shepherds Purse is an independent family run business, led by Judy’s two delightful daughters, Katie and Caroline. 

Rose Grimond (Nettlebed Creamery) - In 1950, Rose Grimond’s grandfather started Nettlebed Dairy which in 2001 was converted into being organic, where organic milk was hauled away and mixed with different milk from other farms. Rose was devastated and decided to take action herself, being the strong woman she is. In 2015, she founded her own Nettlebed Dairy, which has since also won Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards. She has (and we are genuinely chuffed to be able to say this) received the Sue Ryder Women of the Year Achievement Award for Best Business in 2020. Rose - you’re an icon. It’s our absolute pleasure to supply Bix, Witheridge and Highmoor to all our lovely customers. 

Anne Wigmore (Village Maid Cheese)- We can’t get enough of all the beautiful cheeses we supply from Village Maid. Heckfield, Maida Vale, Spenwood, Waterloo AND Wigmore, choosing our favourite is simply an impossible task. In 1986, Anne Wigmore set up Village Maid Cheese, after she began working for the National Institute for Research in Dairying in Shinfield. Initially in the microbiology department followed by research in dairy. The company was humbly opened in a garden outbuilding in Spencer's Wood, meaning milk supply proved difficult given there was no farm itself. However, an undeterred, persistent woman was determined to make her creamery work - and she did. In 1987, the Duke of Wellington approached Anne to make cheese for the local estate using milk from his very own pedigree herd of Guernsey Cows. Anne ( obviously) created a Cheddar-style cheese that was highly acclaimed until the Duke retired. Anne’s cheeses have won multiple awards, including Best English Cheese at the British Cheese Awards, Best- Semi Soft Cheese and the Artisan Cheese Awards. Today, the premises is two times the size of what it began, and milk is sourced 2 miles down the road from Heckfield Place Hotel, where a herd of 30 Guernsey Cows, graze 400 acres surrounded by hilltops and valleys. So, the moral of the story here is, Anne is an absolute and a total Rockstar as are her cheeses.

Catherine Mead (Lynher Dairies) - Supplying the amazing Cornish Kern, Cornish Yarg and Garlic Yarg and Stithians all thanks to Catherine Mead, owner of the dairy in the village of Ponsanooth. Catherine is a true legendary business woman with Kern winning Supreme Champion at the World Cheese Awards in 2017. Apart from making epic cheese, Catherine was awarded OBE in 2019’s Birthday Honour List. She is Chair of the Specialist Cheese Association, Chair of Cornwall Food Foundation, Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall and Trustee of the Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund. Seems quite fitting that she was featured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, given her services to the cheese world and her contribution to the communities in the South West. We are totally obsessed with this impressive superstar. 

Julie Cheyney (St Jude Cheese) - Julie Cheyney has always been passionate about milk and what one can make from it. She truly and sincerely believes soil husbandry and respectful animal welfare is vital in cheese-making. A kind soul through and through, Julie was part of the development team for Tunworth, and now collaborates with Jonny Crickmore at Fen Farm, using raw milk to create the delightful St Jude and St Helena. Winning various awards, including Gold at the World Cheese awards, Gold at Bath & West British Awards and Gold at the Artisan Cheese Awards, Julie describes herself as the dairymaid who gets to make her very own cheese. She is all about working with nature, rather than against her. Both mother nature and Julie are two goddesses. 

St Jude

We cannot get enough of all the wonderful women in the world of cheese-making. We could go on and on all day, referring to more incredible, intelligent and legendary women within the industry, but for now we’ll leave you with these absolute heroes - we don’t know what we’d do without them.

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