Every spring locals from the southwest English county of Gloucestershire come together to race large rounds of Gloucester cheese down Cooper’s Hill. This delicious (but sometimes dangerous) tradition dates back to the 18th century, a time when centuries-old Gloucester cheese was just gaining popularity.
In those days, men chased the rolling cheeses down Cooper’s Hill to show off their masculinity. Today the annual cheese-rolling event signifies how the smooth, buttery cheese is still one of England’s finest, loved by hordes of devotees. The traditional making of Gloucester cheese lives on, as hopefully do the groups of annual cheese-chasers who risk bruises and broken bones tumbling down the infamously steep Cooper’s Hill.
Single vs. Double
Cow’s milk Gloucester is made in two types: single and double.
Single Gloucester is made with a blend of skimmed milk from the evening milking and whole milk from the morning milking. The cheese is typically aged for a period of two months and has a natural rind and semi-hard texture. Compared to Double Gloucester, it is lighter, more crumbly and lower in fat.
Double Gloucester, the more well-known variety, is made with only full cream whole milk from the morning and evening milking. Typically allowed to age for six months or more, it has a slightly firmer texture and stronger, more savoury flavour.
Double Gloucester is often described as a cross between Cheshire and aged Cheddar. Hard, dense and satiny, the cheese has a pronounced buttery rich taste with hints of nuttiness, citrus orange, and onion.
A Colourful History
Gloucester has been made in Gloucestershire since at least the 16th century, but records show it may have been known as early as the eighth. Despite its old age, the cheese didn’t become popular until the 1700s. During this time, a new rind treatment was developed that enabled the cheese to keep longer and withstand travel to major cities.
With this treatment, Gloucester was left to ripen in curing rooms and regularly rubbed with bean and potato stalks. Turned twice a week, the cheese developed a rind as tough as leather. In fact, Gloucester became so sturdy and robust, cheese buyers used to jump on rounds of the cheese with both feet to test their strength. If they didn’t crack, they were safe for travel.
Another development came in the form of Gloucester’s now characteristic golden yellow colour. In earlier times, it was widely believed that cheeses of rosier hues were richer in flavour. So makers of Gloucester began using carrot, beetroot juice or saffron to colour the cheese. Research suggests Gloucester may have been the very first dyed cheese. Today its pale orange colour comes from annatto, a natural orange-red dye obtained from the pulp of a tropical fruit.
Both types of Gloucester are made in large, flat rounds, but Double Gloucester rounds are bigger. Double Gloucester is also sometimes made in tall cylinder shapes. The cheese’s hard natural rind is distinguished by characteristic grey-blue moulds as well as marks from the cloth in which it’s matured.
While Double Gloucester is more widely available, Single Gloucester is still being made in small quantities. Diana Smart of Churcham is said to be the only person in Gloucestershire to still make both types of the cheese by hand using traditional methods. Quicke’s Farmhouse also makes an impressive handmade Double Gloucester farmhouse variety that’s wonderfully complex in flavour and texture.
Semi-hard to hard cheeses like Gloucester should be wrapped airtight in plastic or foil and stored in the refrigerator’s warmest location. (This is usually the top shelf or a separate bottom compartment.) Kept this way, Gloucester cheese should keep for several weeks.
Like most other cheeses, Gloucester displays the best flavour and aroma when enjoyed at room temperature. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator one to two hours before serving to allow it to warm up a bit.
With a firm, biteable texture, Gloucester makes a satisfying snack, especially when paired with dry biscuits and a pint of ale. The cheese is also ideal for grating, grilling or melting, as the mellow flavor holds up beautifully in cooking. On a cheese board, Gloucester makes an elegant presentation along with fresh fruit and fine wines such as Rioja and Riesling.