We Brits love our cheese! It’s no wonder when cheese-making in Britain has been evolving since the 17th century. Find out what makes our British cheese history so great and how some of our best-loved varieties came into existence.

Britain’s Most Loved Cheese

The best-known British cheese is Cheddar and today it is made in many countries around the world. Named after the famous Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, the pressed cow’s milk cheese was first developed over 800 years ago. It quickly became a hit with royalty and Henry II declared Cheddar cheese to be the best in Britain. During the reign of Charles I, the production of Cheddar was monopolised by the royal court.

 

Modern Day Cheddar

The best true Cheddars are still made on farms in Somerset, Devon and Dorset, although high-quality Scottish Cheddar has been produced since 1885, when a Somerset farmer was brought to Scotland by the Ayrshire Agricultural Trust to pass on his skills to local farmers and cheese-makers.

 

Stilton International

Unlike Cheddar, blue Stilton, a world-renowned British cheese, has always had its area of production controlled by law. Any cheese that is labelled Stilton will have been manufactured only within the regions of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. The cheese is made with Penicillium roqueforti, and then pierced with needles to leave holes that encourage the growth of the mould.

 

Welsh Cheese

Caerphilly cheese, named after the town, is the only Welsh cheese to become popular outside Wales. It is made with cow’s milk traditionally in a wheel shape. Typically produced by small farms, demand for it began to exceed supply in the 1800s, so production spread to Somerset, where it is still made today. The traditional methods of making Caerphilly have recently been revived on a number of farms in south Wales. Try this recipe using Caerphilly cheese.

 

Cheshire Cheese

Salty, crumbly Cheshire cheese has been made in the border area of Shropshire and Wales since pre-Roman times. Local cattle graze on ground with salt-bearing rock strata, from where the flavour and texture are said to come. Red Cheshire is coloured with annatto, an American plant used for its pigment that was introduced in pre-Roman times, and new varieties of cheese are still being developed. Blue Cheshire is left to develop a blue mould, which gives the cheese a characteristic sharp flavour and nutty aftertaste.

 

Old meets new

The late 20th century saw a renaissance in British cheese-making. Small producers began experimenting with methods that resulted in cheeses other than the regional ones, such as Cheddar and Stilton, for which Britain is famous. Most notable of these are the soft goat’s cheeses now being made in the West Country.

Yet while these pioneering artisans may seem to have been mimicking the success of continental European cheeses, they are also exploring authentic British traditions, in many cases reviving cheeses lost through wartime rationing and factory production.

 

Modern Day Wensleydale

Wensleydale, originally a blue mould ewe’s milk cheese similar to French Roquefort, was introduced to Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066. In recent years, a few small farmhouse cheese-makers have revived this old-style cheese and have been producing mould-ripened sheep’s milk Wensleydale.

Meanwhile, cow’s milk Wensleydale and white Stilton – mild, firm cheeses that previously received little attention – have emerged as two of Britain’s best sellers thanks to the popularity of combining savoury and sweet flavourings. Combining cheese with herbs, nuts, fruits and spices is not a new idea, and sage Derby, with its distinctive and vivid green marbling from the herb, is a long-established flavoured cheese. Try this quick and easy Wensleydale and pear tart receipe.

Nettle Cheese

Another recently developed cheese, based on a lost 17th-century recipe for ‘nettle cheese’, is Cornish Yarg, a crumbly cheese made from cow’s milk and wrapped in nettle leaves. The name, while giving a sense of old rural tradition, in fact comes from the backward spelling of Gray – the surname of the couple who revived the cheese in the 1970s.

Make sure you experience the wonderful taste of all these cheeses by booking a tasting session at CheeseWorks.

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