Catherine Temple has won a hat-full of national awards for her range of six handmade cheeses and can claim nobility and celebrities among those eating Mrs Temple’s cheese.
But cheese making is only one part of a life crammed with jobs while she and her husband Stephen run a North Norfolk dairy farm at Wighton near Binham.
Catherine is also a university lecturer, a qualified pharmacist, a trainer of nurses, a public speaker, and a keen member of Blakeney’s Coastal Rowing Association.
Catherine and Stephen had both been working on a tea farm in Malawi in south east Africa in the 1990s. While Catherine researched the colour and flavour of tea, Stephen, an engineer, found ways to save energy to halt destruction of the country’s rain forest.
They returned to Norfolk in 1998 to complete their Phds and take over the dairy farm which Stephen’s great grandfather, Fred Temple, started in 1912.
Catherine's now nationally famous cheese-making business began in the kitchen of that farm, Copys Green Farm, three miles from Wells-next-the-Sea. However, cheese-making was born of necessity not desire. Twenty years ago was a time when depressed farm prices made it almost impossible to break even running a farm. So when needs must, Catherine decided cheese might be a way forward.
Her business began in her kitchen with two plastic buckets, a gallon of milk and a library book. In the space of eight years her cheese became one of Norfolk's best known products and is now found on the cheeseboards of top restaurants and in many self-respecting delis.
Facing an uphill struggle to keep their farm going, Catherine selected cheese-making as her contribution while Stephen, an engineer, decided to make electricity.
He installed an anaerobic digester to produce energy and hot water from the whey. This created the ‘carbon neutral’ Norfolk cheese.
Now there is a complete 'circle of success' on the farm with every element – crops, cows, slurry, and cheese making all dependent on each other. And the Temples have won national recognition for their sustainable agriculture.
In the early days, Catherine worked seven days a week as a jobbing pharmacist which, together with cheese making, paid the overdraft and got cash flowing in to keep them afloat. Stephen marketed the cheese and ran the farm while Catherine dispensed drugs.
Hard work is clearly in both Catherine and Stephen’s DNA. Not only is she fully involved in the seven-day a week cheese-making operation on the farm, but she is a lecturer at the University of East Anglia’s School of Health Sciences in Norwich. Her university workload was ramped up by having to put all her courses online for students during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time cheese sales dropped to just 15 per cent of normal volumes at their worst as the sales outlets such as restaurants and shops closed.
Cheese making is hard and heavy work. A team of skilled part-timers from their village, providing up to 18-20 person-days a week, is involved in production, turning, wrapping and cutting cheese every day of the week. The cows on the 500-acre farm are grazed on home-grown forage crops such as lucerne.
The pasteurised milk from their 90-strong herd of Swiss Brown cows is the key to such award-winning soft and hard cheese varieties with names such as Binham Blue, Wighton, Walsingham, Copys Cloud, Wells Alpine, and Gurney’s Gold. All have been recognised at the British Cheese Awards with Gurney's Gold winning the gold medal. In July 2021, at the Artisan Cheese Fair in Melton Mowbray, Mrs Temple's Binham Blue took the national gold medal and she won silver for her Wells Alpine.
Catherine, whose family ran a small Nottinghamshire dairy farm, where she made Stilton cheese as a child, revised her cheese-making skills and took a cheese-making course paid by her pharmacist earnings to launch her business.
The award-winning fine food hall at Bakers of Holt ‘discovered’ Mrs Temple’s cheese. They showcased her products in the window of their Holt shop. That was the touchpaper which launched interest in Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue among consumers across East Anglia and beyond.
Her cheeseboard soon appeared on the table at the stately home Holkham Hall and tempted the tastebuds of its influential guests. Other prestigious orders followed.
Today, the Temples, who have also won the coveted Farmers’ Weekly Green Energy Farmer of the Year award by following sustainable agricultural policies, produce more than 30 tons of cheese a year. At one time they made 13 different varieties but new laws on allergens has resulted in rationalising varieties.
Cheese-making is now a crucial element in the perfect circle of success at Copys Green Farm.
And how does Catherine make tea? Strong and black to get the full flavour. No milk is added to the brew even though the couple run a dairy farm.
To order online or find out where you can buy Mrs Temple's cheeses go to the Temple's website.
Follow Catherine and Stephen's Instagram to see life on the farm @copys_green_farm