What is England’s favourite cheese? Most would argue it’s a draw between Cheddar perhaps the most popular cheese in the world, and Stilton, a fine blue that’s long been hailed as the “King of Cheeses.”
But whether you’re partial to a smooth, mellow cheese or one that offers a pungent piquant “bite,” one thing’s for certain: England is home to a wonderful selection of cheeses. From traditional regional styles to modern creamery cheeses made by small producers, England’s favourites have achieved renown and prominence everywhere.
Since there are actually too many delicious varieties to list, we offer a roundup of Britain’s favourites here. Who knows – you just might find a new rival for your most-loved cheese.
This whole cow’s milk cheese is ripened for four to six months and skewered with Penicillium roqueforti to encourage the growth of mould. The result is a creamy, slightly crumbly cheese with delicate blue-green veins. Pungent, yet mellow, Stilton is lighter than Gorgonzola, but richer and more intense than other UK blues. White Stilton, a younger version, is marketed before the blue veins develop. It has a mild, slightly sour flavour.
Blue Cheshire and Shropshire Blue are the other contenders on the list of popular English blue cheeses, although Stilton is still king as far as reputation and sales go.
The best-known cheese in the English-speaking world, cheddar varieties range from natural white to deep orange in colour. Smooth and mild when young, the cow’s milk cheese takes on a more crumbly texture and sharper taste as it matures. Cheddar’s origins can be traced back to the 16th century village of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. Since the cheese’s name was never protected, it is now produced in many countries all over the world, particularly in North America. The term West Country Farmhouse Cheddar however, can only be used for Cheddars produced in the counties of Dorset, Devon, Somerset or Cornwall.
As one of England’s oldest cheeses (it was invented in the 12th century), Cheshire is also one of the country’s most famous. The rich cow’s milk cheese is made in three varieties: white, red and blue. The white and red (dyed with annatto) are similar: young, semi-firm and mildly tangy in flavour. A longer-aged type called Farmhouse Cheshire offers a fuller, richer taste. The blue variety is skewered with mould during curing for blue veins. It is firmer and more crumbly, with a rich, mellow flavour and slightly salty aftertaste.
Considered one of England’s finest, this traditional, unpasteurised cheese has been made in Gloucestershire since at least the 16th century, and perhaps as early as the eighth. Inside the hard natural rind, the flesh is dense, satiny and golden yellow. Full of flavour, cow’s milk Gloucester is rich, buttery and nutty. It is sometimes described as having hints of complex flavours like orange zest and onion.
This white cow’s milk cheese is traditionally made from curd that’s milled, salted and pressed. It ranges from soft to semi-firm depending on how long it is aged. When young, Lancashire is moist, crumbly, mild and tangy. As it matures, the cheese becomes harder and stronger and richer in flavour. Farmhouse Lancashire has a more robust taste compared to mass-produced varieties, which are often mild and flat.
Distinguished by its bright orange colour, Leicester resembles cheddar, but has a higher moisture content. The natural cow’s milk cheese has a hard, dry rind with powdery mould and a crumbly texture. Leicester can be eaten when young, but is best when left to mature as it develops a mellow flavour and tangy aftertaste. It’s a favourite for eating with snacks, especially fruit and beer.
Made in the tradition of the great French variety, Somerset is a soft ripened cheese with a velvety smooth rind and a rich, creamy interior. It is Britain’s best-selling soft variety, and especially popular with vegetarians. The cow’s milk cheese has an aroma that hints of mushrooms and green grass, and it deliciously softens and ripens when left to age a few weeks after purchase.
Hailing from Gloucestershire, this vegetarian cow’s milk cheese is named after a local variety of pear. Invented by Charles Martell, the cheese is washed in sparkling perry (an alcoholic beverage similar to cider but made from pears). It has a runny texture, and despite its strong aroma, actually carries a mild flavour similar to Munster.