How good are Welsh cheeses? They’re so good they were once used as part of divorce settlements. Under the laws of Welsh ruler Hywel Dda cheeses that were washed in brine went to the wife, and cheeses that were hung up went to the husband.
Indeed, Wales has a long-standing tradition for producing delicious, high-quality cheeses. The earliest varieties resembled the now famous Caerphilly, but they were made from goat and sheep’s milks and immersed in brine. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, cow’s milk became the cheese-making ingredient of choice.
By the early 20th century, the production of Caerphilly moved to England because the demand for the cheese outgrew its Welsh production. Unfortunately, by the time of WWII, cheese making in Wales had come to a near standstill – many of the small Welsh cheese producers were run out of business by the larger English factories.
Today, a new generation of Welsh cheese makers has taken over the reigns. And though Caerphilly is the only truly traditional Welsh cheese still made, there are many modern farmhouse cheeses that offer a whole new palate of exciting possibilities. Throughout South East, Mid, and North Wales, small and large dairies are winning awards, re-establishing Wales' cheese making reputation, and turning out products that are sought after worldwide. Here are some of the best Welsh cheeses:
AcornThis modern farmhouse cheese is based on an old-style recipe for English Wensleydale. Made from unpasteurized ewe’s milk, it has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s both firm and crumbly. As for flavour, Acorn offers notes of caramel and nuts and finishes with a hint a citrus. The truckle-shaped cheese has a crusty, golden, natural rind and is favoured for eating out of hand or grating. It is suitable for vegetarians.
CaerphillyFirst made in Caerphilly around 1830, this original Welsh cheese is quite similar to Wensleydale and Lancashire. However, with a higher moisture content, it is more buttery and less crumbly than its English counterparts. Made from pasteurised cow’s milk, the wheel-shaped cheese has a white rind that’s lightly dusted with fine flour.
When young, Caerphilly has a moist, supple texture and fresh taste. With age, it becomes creamier around the edges and more rounded in flavour. Now made in South and West Wales, the vegetarian cheese pairs well with a crisp Chardonnay or Red Zinfandel.
Celtic PromiseThis modern vegetarian cheese is made by John and Patrice Savage-Ontswedder in collaboration with a recipe invented by pioneering cheese affineur James Aldridge. The surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese has a semi-soft texture and a moist orange-red rind with a dusting of mould. Washed in cider brine during ripening, Celtic Promise is creamy, rich and yellow, with a pungent aroma and slightly piquant taste.
The favourite Welsh cheese won a medal at the British Cheese Awards and is wonderfully complemented by fresh cider, ale, and medium-bodied wines (red or white).
Llanboidy (updated 2013)This was one of the most popular Welsh cheeses, until it's maker retired in 2011. Llanboidy was the only cheese in Europe made from the milk of Red Poll cows, a rare pedigree breed. These cows graze on traditional pastures and drink water from the farm’s own well, which gave the cheese a fresh-cut hay aroma and sharp, grassy tang. Referred to as the “Natural Taste of Wales,” Llanboidy was made by hand and allowed to mature and develop its own rind.
The hard-pressed farmhouse cheese had a smooth, silky texture and robust taste.
TeifiThis organic, vegetarian cow’s milk cheese has been made by artisans John and Patrice Savage-Ontswedder since 1982. Hailing from South Wales, the flavour of the high-quality hard cheese is influenced by the grasses, flowers and herbs that grow in the grazing meadows of the Teifi Valley.
Similar to Gouda, Teifi has a bright yellow interior and sweet, fruity flavour when young. As it ages, the cheese becomes hard and flaky. Delicious all on its own, Teifi also adds a rich depth of flavour to cooked recipes. It is sometimes made with nettles and cumin or smoked.