We all love cheese. We love blue cheese on crackers, soft cheese in creamy pasta sauces, strong English cheese bubbling on toast with a splash of Worcestershire sauce and smoked cheese with crisp, fresh apples. I bet you’re even thinking about going to the fridge now to dig into a block of cheddar. But what makes a good cheese? And which are the best local cheeses around?
What is Cheese?
Cheese is made by putting milk through a series of processes such as heating, cooling, curdling, drying and ageing. The various types of cheese taste different according to a huge number of reasons.
These factors include: the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo); the addition of bacteria to the milk (used in Blue Stilton); the different lengths and types of processes used (ricotta is curdled with acid rather than rennet), and the climate in which the cheese is aged (gorgonzola is known to be aged in cold, cave-like climates).
Additionally, different ingredients can be added to complement different flavours of cheese, including herbs, spices, chilli peppers, horseradish, and port wine.
What’s great is that cheese is incredibly versatile in both flavour and functionality. It can complement just about any item on a menu, adding intense or subtle flavours and textures. Moreover, no two are the same. Even the smallest variations in a recipe can lead to very different flavour profiles. Cheese has a real sense of regionality; each cheesemaker is able to bring their own expertise to their produce.
Traditional English Cheese
Recognized by its blue-green veins, crinkly inedible rind, complex flavour and crumbly texture, Blue Stilton is a classic English cheese. It has PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, meaning it can only be made within Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire from locally produced pasteurized milk. Cropwell Bishop uses recipes passed down three generations to produce their Blue Stilton which takes around five weeks to mature. During this time, the Stilton gradually develops the gorgeous richness that is so much a part of its appeal.
In the 1100s, the humble cheddar cheese began its life in the village of Cheddar in southwestern England. The nearby series of caves called Cheddar Gorge naturally maintain ideal conditions (humidity, temperature, etc.) for cheese ripening. Cheddar is naturally white or pale yellow, the yellow coming from naturally occurring carotene in grass eaten by dairy cows.
Montgomery’s Mature Cheddar is the epitome of traditional, handmade, unpasteurised Somerset Cheddar. It is wrapped in a muslin cloth and placed on wooden shelves before it is left to mature for 12 months. This process gives the cheddar deep, rich and nutty flavours.
West Country Farmhouse Cheddar also has PDO status. It must be produced from milk within Devon, Dorset, Cornwall or Somerset, England.
Discovering Local Cheese
England might be renowned for producing Cheddar, Red Leicester, Blue Stilton and Wensleydale, but the traditional English cheese landscape is changing. Just because you love traditional Buffalo mozzarella or Parmesan from Italy, it doesn’t mean you won’t find a locally made equivalent you like just as much!
The Dutch classic, Gouda is a beautiful creamy and nutty flavour profile. It is a mild, cow’s milk cheese which dates back to 1184, making it one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world still made today. But have you ever thought about eating Gouda made in Cornwall?
The Cornish Gouda Co. produce their Gouda using traditional techniques borrowed from the cheesemakers’ roots in the Netherlands. Their Cornish Gouda comes in a variety of different strengths; their strongest is matures for 18+ months.
Camembert is a rich, soft, creamy surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese. And it’s French, very French… originating in Normandy in the 18th Century. Each cheese is sprayed with the mould Penicillium camemberti before being left for three weeks to ripen. This produces the characteristic bloomy rind.
Tunworth’s soft cheese is an ‘ode’ to Camembert but while its style, texture and production are similar to that of a Camembert, the taste is unique: cleaner and smoother than its French inspiration. Tunworth is a previous Supreme Champion and Gold Award winner at the British Cheese Awards.
Plant-based food is also on the rise. You may not associate vegan with cheese, but there is a huge number of plant-based brands catering to the vegan cheese lovers out there! Vegan cheese is often made with coconut milk or oat protein.
Vegan Mozzarella is increasingly popular as home chefs want a realistic pizza topping. VBites manufacture the widest range of vegan products in the UK. They have been going since 1993 and are the self-proclaimed Pioneers of Plant-Based Food. Their Dairy-Free Mozzarella Cheezly is a unique and innovative alternative to much loved and iconic Mozzarella.
So if you’re looking to try a new cheese or even one of the oldest cheeses in the world, take a look at YouK to discover the best cheese England has to offer!