Small we may be; but we have some seriously big cheeses in Britain!
True, British country cheeses are the rare and prized survivors of food processing changes that have meant the loss of numerous, traditionally-made, regional specialities. Primitive cheese-making tools have been found in Iron Age settlements; that gives us an idea of how important cheese is to our heritage.
Fortunately for us, a scattering of dedicated cheese-makers around the country held on tightly to their local tastes, traditions and handed them down to the next generation; stalwarts for ‘proper’ hand-crafted cheese.
First, just think of the different types of soil and grasslands we have in Britain. Then, consider our rare, or native, regional species of sheep goats and cows: these are animals that have evolved to get the best from their environment. Combine these factors with the year-round farming traditions of each region and add some good old British weather to the pot!
Finally, with the knowledge and hard work of our rural cheese-makers, we have that prized end result: British hand-made cheese.
The milk from flocks of Friesland sheep are used to make a creamy and slightly nutty cheese called ‘Swinzie’. Named after the once-thriving bonnet industry in the area, Sannen goats’ produce milk used in the making of ‘Bonnet’ cheese. ‘Dunlop’ cheese is soft with a fruity taste. The famous ‘Connage Crowdie’ a half-fat curd cheese (known as gruth in Gaelic) that goes beautifully with a pre-ceildh whisky! The traditional methods used to make this cheese date back to the Viking occupation.
From Ross-shire comes ‘Caboc’ cheese; made from cows’ milk and rolled into small logs, it is traditionally dressed with toasted oats. Bishop Kennedy was a 15th century bishop from St Andrews. The cheese named after him is an earthy, soft cheese, that is rind-washed in whisky during its final stage of maturing. The Isle of Mull cheese is a cloth-bound beauty from Tobermory and Loch Arthur Creamery use fresh un-pasteurised milk from their (bio-dynamically reared) Ayrshire cows.
Orkney cheddar is among the best known Scottish cheeses; with a history of over 200 years and oak-smoked cheddar from the Isle of Arran is a smouldering treat; oak shavings from the barrels of Glenmorangie whisky are used in the process of making this particular cheese.
Among the many good blue cheeses to try are: Wummle; Brodick Blue; Lanark Blue and Dunsyre Blue.
With salty winds from the Atlantic, lush Irish grasses, wild herbs on rocky outcrops and rain trickling down the mountain sides, Ireland produces some unforgettable cheeses. Irish cheddar is well-known and needs little introduction. Here are a few, not so well known, Irish cheeses:
- Cashel Blue-hand-made by a family in Tipperary.
- Gubbeen-from the Gaelic word meaning ‘small mouth’ the name of this rich and tangy, almost Gorgonzola-like, cheese comes from the bay near Schull; where it is made.
- Coolea is a Gouda-type cheese, made with unpasteurised cows’ milk.
- Durrus is a fine, raw-milk, cheese.
- Ardrahan is a washed-rind, semi-soft cheese, made with pasteurised cows’ milk. This milky-sweet delight is among the revival of Irish cheese-making types and very popular with wine lovers!
- St Tola, from County Clare, is a fresh and creamy goat cheese.
You don’t have to be able to pronounce them to enjoy them…
- Pwll Mawr means ‘Big Pit’-the name given to this black-waxed cheese because it is matured at the bottom of the pit mineshaft.
- Caws Gafr-made from the milk of Carmarthenshire goats.
- Cenarth Caerffili-traditionally made from organic pasteurised cows’ milk.
- Perl Las is a creamy, rich, semi-soft blue cheese made from organic cows’ milk.
- Llanboidy is unique as the only cheese made from the milk of rare breed red-Poll cows.
- Hafod Cheddar comes from Wales’ longest certified organic dairy farm.
- Caws Mynydd Du has a hint of citrus and is made with pasteurised ewes’ milk.
- Merlin is handmade goats’ cheese; available plain or with the addition of fruits, herbs and spices, or seeds.
English Cheese Facts
As in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, the regions of England have their own speciality cheeses, made by locals, with milk from local animals, reared on local pastures. The addition of beer, whisky, herbs, honey and other locally-sourced goodies helps to define regional cheeses.
It would be unforgivable to list some and not others, so I’m opting out and picking a few English cheese facts instead! Red Leicester – made with annatto to give colour, became White Leicester during wartime rationing, because there was a ban on colouring agents.
A cheese, similar to Greek feta, is made in Yorkshire. Because of the Protected Designation of Origin, the cheese-makers’ weren’t allowed to call it feta; so it’s called, ‘Fine Fettle Curd Cheese’!
Cornish ‘Yarg’ is not a local word at all – it simply says ‘gray’ backwards; as that is the colour of the ash used during the production process.