The best of British cheeseboard cheeses

Bob Farrand 21 July 2022

Once, it seemed unlikely that any British cheese could match up to the French standard. Now, Bob Farrand shares his advice for finding the best of the British cheeses

I first tasted Beenleigh Blue in August of 1990. The buyer at Fortnum and Mason claimed this new cheese had the beating of Roquefort. I doubted any British cheese could challenge the king of French blues. How wrong was I?

The rich flavours from this crumbly-pasted cheese were intensely creamy with strong floral notes balancing the natural sweetness of sheeps’ milk. A cheese of such joy immediately hooked me and so began my love affair with British artisan cheese.

Bob Farrand

Bob Farrand is the author of The Snake That Bites Its Tail, an intriguing psychological murder mystery involving the publisher of food magazines

As publisher of the first British magazine entirely devoted to cheese and organiser of the World Cheese Awards, I have enjoyed a privileged lifetime savouring some of the world’s most exquisite examples and my appreciation for those made in the UK remains unabated to this day.

"A cheese of such joy immediately hooked me and so began my love affair with British artisan cheese"

Over the past three decades, I watched as dairy farmers became increasingly disillusioned with the price supermarkets paid for their milk and many turned in desperation to cheese making. As their numbers grew, the range and quality of home-grown varieties expanded to the point that my cheeseboard now rarely grants French cheeses a look in!

English cheddar

This was the first cheese I tasted as a child, although back then cheddar was rarely matured for longer than six or seven months and lacked any real depth of flavour. Happily, much has changed. Traditionally made West Country Farmhouse cheddars at 12, 15, maybe 18 or even 24 months maturation now yield a richly satisfying complexity, a balanced acidity matched with lactic sweetness and perfectly judged “farmyard” notes to gently remind us of its origins.  

English cheddar

Mature English cheddar has a rich, satisfying taste

Seek out a traditional cloth-bound cheddar bearing the name of the farm that made it—Montgomerie, Keens, Westcombe, Cheddar Gorge, Ford Farm or Quickes. Demand to know how long it has been matured and if the person behind the counter can’t tell you, shop elsewhere, because the longer the maturation, the more satisfying it generally is.

Cheshire

Many believe Britain’s oldest cheese to be Cheshire, reputedly fed to Roman soldiers garrisoned at Chester. These days, finding the cheese is an increasingly rare treat. The genuine article is made using unpasteurised milk drawn from cows grazing pastures in the county of its name, or just over the border into Shropshire.

"Cheshire [was] reputedly fed to Roman soldiers garrisoned at Chester"

Heavy salt deposits in the soil nurture a grass that produces a milk with a slightly higher salt content, which in turn gives us a crumbly cheese with a slightly salty edge to its fresh, lemony finish. Only two or three farms still make it and the one made by Appleby, using unpasteurised milk from their own herd of cows, is the one I buy.  

Cornish Blue

During the late 1990s, the full-on flavours of traditional blue cheeses began to prove too challenging for younger palates. At around the same time, ex-professional rugby player and Cornish farmer Phil Stansfield was struggling to survive as his milk prices collapsed so he turned his hand to making a softer, creamier blue cheese designed for a younger audience.

Blue cheese

As traditional blue cheeses fell out of favour, Cornish farmer Phil Stansfield designed the new Cornish Blue

It took five years to perfect Cornish Blue but at the 2010 World Cheese Awards, it was crowned World Champion cheese, the first Brit in more than a decade to win. His business was transformed, and although I’m no spring chicken, his cheese has become one of my favourites too.

Goats' milk cheeses

These are essential to every board. My first choice is Golden Cross, made in East Sussex by Kevin and Alison Blunt and winner of countless awards. This white moulded goats’ milk log boasts the texture of silk with clean lemony notes when young. With longer maturation, the soft, creamy paste enclosed in the edible rind develops deeper, more satisfyingly complex flavours.  

"Goats' milk cheeses are essential to every board"

My second is Tor, a pyramid-shaped cheese with a dusted ash rind that was recently awarded three stars at the Great Taste Awards. Named after Glastonbury Tor, its delightfully creamy-fresh lactic flavours tease the palate with gorgeous citrussy notes on a long, clean finish. 

Baron Bigood

This is yet another example of the way this new generation of British cheesemakers now rate alongside the best in the world. Made with raw milk from Suffolk farmer Jonny Crickmore’s Montbeliarde cows, this true farmhouse brie develops a rich, nutty, mushroomy rind enveloping a silky-soft paste giving earthy complex notes on the finish.

Nowadays, there is little need to look beyond our shores for world class cheeses, although you’ll struggle to find many on supermarket shelves. I buy locally, from independent delis and farm shops, where food miles are kept to a minimum and every pound I spend supports the local economy. You’ll enjoy much better cheese if you do the same. 

The snake that bites its tail

Bob Farrand’s first novel, The Snake That Bites Its Tail, an intriguing psychological murder mystery involving the publisher of food magazines, is available by order through good book shops or direct from Amazon. All proceeds go to the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.

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