Like many of our suppliers, Shepherds Purse started as a tabletop enterprise in a farmhouse kitchen. The farmhouse in question was home to Judy Bell, who began cheesemaking in the 1980s using milk from the family’s sheep. It’s now run by her daughters, Katy and Caroline, who oversee production of their 11 hand-made cheeses – blues are a speciality – in the same lovely spot, near Thirsk. “We’re still on the family farm,” says Caroline, “so we’re very rural. We’ve got the Pennines to one side and the North Yorkshire Moors to the other, and we’re nestled into the Vale of York. It’s lovely green fields all around us.”
In an ordinary workplace, creativity might be known as blue-sky thinking. At Shepherds Purse they do the green field version, inspired by putting great-quality sheep, cow and water buffalo milk to the best possible use. “We don’t make territorial cheeses,” says Caroline. “We’ve made our own recipes, developing very traditional ones to make them our own. Innovation is core to what we do.” Yorkshire Blue, a buttery, mild blue made from cows’ milk from Yorkshire farms, and its complex, slightly salty sheeps’ milk sister Mrs Bells Blue, are among their best-known cheeses.
Shepherds Purse has grown and the team now numbers 20 people, but production remains proudly artisan. “We make everything from hand still,” says Caroline. “We expanded in the early 2000s and tested some automated equipment but we weren’t happy with it, so we manufactured our own little solution to keep doing it by hand. We also pack by hand, so we can check the quality at every stage.”
It’s an all-absorbing business for sisters who grew up with cheesemaking. Luckily, says Caroline, “We don’t make a cheese that we don’t like.”