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Isabelle Goodhand
Features Writer
1:03 AM 12th August 2023
lifestyle

Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese: The Story Of Yorkshire’s Very Own ‘feta’

 
Photo: Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese – By The Shepherds Purse
Photo: Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese – By The Shepherds Purse
While originating from Greece, feta cheese has become renowned across the world. Cheese maker, Judy Bell, created her own ‘feta’ cheese based in Yorkshire in the late 80’s. Now, her daughter, Caroline Bell, explains the story of how Yorkshire’s feta cheese came to be.

Feta cheese, derived from the Italian ‘fetta’, meaning ‘slice’, is typically associated with Greek cuisine and used in many Mediterranean dishes.

In the UK, a number of feta and ‘Greek Style’ Cheeses are sold in most supermarkets. From 2008 to 2018, the amount of cheese exported from Greece increased by 162%.

The creation of such cheese can be traced back to 8th century Greece and is traditionally made from goat or sheep milk.

Far from its Mediterranean roots, Judy replicated the process from her North Yorkshire farm, The Shepherds Purse.

She first developed the cheese when realising the lack of cows’ milk free alternatives for those who are allergic. After sourcing 6 milking sheep, she began experimenting with sheep’s milk cheese, leading to the creation of their first cheese ‘Yorkshire Feta’, which was launched in 1989.

Alongside ‘Yorkshire Feta’, a sheep’s milk Wensleydale and Olde York were also launched.

Mrs Bell with her daughters Katie and Caroline – By The Shepherds Purse
Mrs Bell with her daughters Katie and Caroline – By The Shepherds Purse
In the late 90’s, a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) was put forward, claiming that a cheese should not be called feta unless produced in Greece. There were many protests to this action.

“Feta is a very broad PDO. When you look at other PDO’s they’re very specific,” Caroline explained. “It’s Melton Mowbray Porkpies, for example. It’s of a very specific region.”

Despite this, the PDO was awarded by the European Commission in 2002 after being unsuccessfully challenged by Germany and Denmark. This led to the name of the cheese being changed to ‘Yorkshire Fettle’ in 2008.

“We changed the name to Yorkshire Fettle because obviously fettle is a great Yorkshire word, a Northern word, and it means ‘to fix’. We thought it was perfect.” Caroline added.

From here, The Shepherds Purse continued to create Yorkshire Fettle uninterrupted until the COVID 19 lockdown.

During the lockdown, sheep’s milk farmers, who supplied milk to The Shepherds Purse, were under threat after losing business from the hospitality sector.
Of the 22 customers the farmers had once had, only two remained. One of these customers was The Shepherds Purse.

To avoid tanks of milk going to waste, The Shepherds Purse developed a new format for creating their Yorkshire Fettle in order to take on more milk.
Unlike other cheese, which must be sold shortly after maturing, Caroline explains that the Fettle can be left to develop for a longer period of time.

“It was still a risk for us to take on more milk at that time in the pandemic and we had to make sure we balanced it. So, there was a big campaign.”
In the summer of that year however, The Shepherds Purse received a barrister’s letter stating that the cheese could not be called fettle as it was still too similar to feta. This led to The Shepherds Purse having to find another new name for the cheese.

The name they chose was Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese.
“We sadly lost our mum, who developed the cheese, and we’d already called our blue cheese Mrs Bell’s Blue” Caroline explained, “We thought it would be a great honour for mum to move the sheep’s milk cheese into the Mrs Bell’s prefix and call it Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese.”

Under the new name, Mrs Bell’s Salad Cheese continues to be sold around the country. Since its creation, the cheese has won international awards including a gold star in the 2018 Great Tastes Award. The cheese has also been featured on Paul Hollywood’s BBC One Programme ‘Pies & Puds’.

Led by Judy’s daughters, Caroline and Katie, The Shepherds Purse is an independent, family-run business with a team of 35 artisans.