Could you save this much-loved Norfolk cheese?
- Credit: Duncan Kerridge
The maker of Norfolk White Lady wants to make sure her much-loved cheeses don’t retire with her.
Her cheeses have won praise from celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Ainsley Harriot and Jane Murray is keen they continue to delight diners across the country when she retires.
Jane, of Willow Farm Dairy, Deopham, near Wymondham, began making cheese with milk from her flock of sheep 21 years ago, becoming the county’s first commercial cheese-maker and still the only cheesemaker selling ewes’ milk cheese.
Her Norfolk White Lady, Wissington, and Deopham Blewe cheeses are sold to shoppers and restaurants across East Anglia and beyond, through delicatessens, farm shops, the East of England Co-op, and wholesalers to outlets around the country. “Most of the local celebrity chefs, including Richard Hughes and Delia Smith use my cheeses on a regular basis. Over the years I’ve had some very flattering comments from Jamie Oliver and Ainsley Harriot,” said Jane. Her very first retail customers – Bakers and Larners of Holt, Humble Pie of Burnham Market and Mr Christie of Colkirk - still buy directly from her.
She grew up in the Cotswolds, wanting to be a farmer, and went to agricultural college after spending a year milking cows on a dairy farm. “During my college years I did a project about sheep dairying and decided it was my route to being a farmer with minimum capital outlay. Having battled with unwilling heifers, sheep were also something I could physically manage on my own,” said Jane.
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She bought her first sheep in 1986 and began making her cheese at Poppylot Farm, near Feltwell. When she moved to Deopham she was unable to bring her sheep with her so now sources her milk from another farm. But she kept a small flock and said: “I really can’t imagine a life without sheep! My sheep are very friendly and come up for cuddles. They are real characters.”
However, she is beginning to imagine life beyond cheesemaking. “After 21 years I would like to sell my business and retire!” she said.
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While some cheesemakers were badly affected by the first coronavirus lockdown in particular, Jane actually saw demand soar. She hopes to sell her business complete with equipment, maturing rooms and customer lists, plus tuition in how to create her award-winning cheeses.
“I would love for Willow Farm cheeses to continue to be made in the same traditional artisanal way that I have developed over the years,” she said. “It would be lovely if it could stay in Norfolk.”
Her bestselling cheese, brie-like Norfolk White Lady, was named for her white sheep; semi-hard Wissington after the west Norfolk sugar beet factory which dominated the skyline where she began making cheese and Deopham Blewe for the village she moved to, with a nod to it being a blue cheese made from and ewes’ milk.
“There is a huge feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day when all the cheeses are on their racks in the maturing rooms,” she said.
She plans to stay at Willow Farm with her partner, Martin. “The next chapter is full of unfinished projects. My five-year house renovation plan has already been extended by seven years and it would be very nice to get it finally completed. There is an old railway carriage at the end of my garden which is awaiting conversion from a pig shed to holiday accommodation. I am looking forward to riding my horse, gardening, walking more and exploring the beautiful Norfolk countryside from the back of our Harley!”
Anyone interested in finding out more about taking on Jane’s cheesemaking business can contact her at email@example.com