One of England’s most famous varieties Cheshire is a rich cow’s milk cheese that’s tremendously popular and widely imitated throughout the world. Full-bodied, sharp, and acidic-fresh, true Cheshire derives a mildly salty flavour from salt deposits that permeate the soil of Cheshire pasturelands.
Cheshire is a semi-firm cheese with a silky-crumbly texture. Ripened an average over two to three months, it’s relatively mild when young, and sharper and more full-flavoured when allowed to further mature.
Cheshire cheese is made in three types: white, red, and blue. The white (actually ivory to pale yellow in colour) and red (deep peach to orange in color) are identical in flavour. The only difference in the red variety is the annatto vegetable dye used to give it attractive colouring.
Blue Cheshire, penetrated by mould during ageing, has a beautiful golden interior tinted with blue veins. It is distinctively sharp, crumbly, and rich, but milder in flavour compared to English Stilton. Blue Cheshire has not been widely produced since the 1990s, but recent demand for the cheese has spurred a revival from producers like Cheshire’s H.S. Bourne.
In addition to the typical white, red, and blue, Cheshire is also made in speciality varieties such as organic, mature, and oak-smoked. At various times of year, producers will also offer selections flavoured with apricot, cranberry, ginger, or dates and walnuts.
Cheshire is perhaps England’s oldest cheese on record, with a mention in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book circa 1086. Since then, the cheese has earned legions of devotees, including famed 16th century historian/mapmaker John Speed who once proclaimed Cheshire to be the best cheese in Europe.
By the 18th century, Cheshire was the most popular cheese on the market. Produced at an estimated 10,000 tonnes per year, it was the only cheese stocked on the ships of the British Royal Navy. In later years, Cheshire saw a decline in production as a larger variety of cheeses became more widely available, particularly younger, fresher crumbly cheeses that were cheaper to produce.
Though Cheshire reached its peak of production in 1960 at around 40,000 tonnes, it still holds rank as the UK’s best-selling crumbly cheese. It’s also a classic favourite among cheese lovers in France, America, and Canada.
Back in the 1930s, more than 400 farms were making Cheshire to the tune of about 6,000 tons per year. Today, most of the cheese is factory produced, but there are still a handful of farmhouses making Cheshire cheese according to traditional recipes and methods.
One of these is Shropshire’s Hawkstone Abbey farm run by the Appleby family. The Applebys produce one of the only handmade, unpasteurised, cloth-bound Cheshire cheeses available today. Farmhouse Cheshire is typically longer-aged six to 10 months, giving it a richer, fuller flavour. Appleby’s Farmhouse Cheshire offers a buttery-rich, mellow flavour and a bright, tangy acidity that’s well worth the price and effort.
Cheshire is often enjoyed as an appetiser or snack, and is absolutely wonderful with fresh fruit. A traditional ingredient in Welsh Rarebit, Cheshire can also be incorporated into recipes for baked foods, egg dishes, and salads. Simply crumble it over romaine lettuce topped with tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and red peppers for a burst of flavour.
When pairing Cheshire with wine, Riesling, Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon all balance Cheshire’s full-bodied flavour quite nicely. Cheshire is also perfect with a glass of fine brown ale.