By Bill Anderson, Apprentice Wisconsin Cheesemaker
Perhaps the most famous example of an English Territorial cheese is Cheddar, but the category includes many others: Stilton, Cheshire, Caerphilly, Lancashire, Gloucester, Double Gloucester, and others. Each is named after the region or territory from which it gets its name.
What distinguishes these cheeses is their acidic flavor profile and crumbly, chalky texture. This is a result of the production technique commonly known as “cheddaring.” After a light cook (much lower temperatures than the Alpine cheeses discussed in the previous posting) the curds are allowed to settle to the bottom of the cheese vat and knit together. The whey is drained off, and the mass of curds is periodically broken up into smaller pieces, and then allowed to fuse back together. During this whole process, the cultures are rapidly acidifying the curd, by fermenting the lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This acidifcation of the curd helps expell whey and create a dryer cheese.
Once the acidity has reached a certain critical level, the curd mass is run through a curd mill, which breaks apart the curd slabs into individual curds. When you buy “cheese curds” at the grocery store, this is what you are eating. The curds are then salted to limit the acid fermentation and draw out more whey, and then put into forms and pressed into a wheel or block.
The most traditional cheddars are made on the farm in Somerset, England (home of the Valley of Cheddar and town of Cheddar) by two families: Montgomerys and Keens. Both of these cheddars are made with raw milk, and are aged under a cheese cloth bandage.
Photo Credit: VisitSomerset.com
Photo Credit: formaggiokitchen.com
Unlike modern industrial cheddars which are “cyro-vacced” (or sealed in an airtight plastic bag) and put into a walk-in cooler where they are aged at near-freezing temperatures, traditional cloth bound cheddar wheels are open-air cured in a cave or cellar environment. The young cheeses are coated in a layer of lard which is colonized and consumed by native molds in the curing room. The molds contribute some flavor to the cheese (especially on the rind) but the most important effect of curing the cheese is the moisture loss. As the cheeses dry down with age, the flavor becomes more concentrated, and the cheeses take on interesting flavor notes.
Cheddar is probably the least acidic and chalky of the English Territorial cheeses. Cheeses like caerphilly, cheshire, and lancashire have a very crumbly, acidic, and chalky paste, with lemony aromas. They have a certain “zing” to them in the mouth.
At one time all of these cheeses were produced with raw milk, but after World War II, because of industrialization and centralization of dairy production, the most traditional farmhouse cheeses became nearly extinct. Thanks in part to the efforts of Neal’s Yard Dairy during the 1980′s, the English public become aware of the pending extinction of its traditional cheeses. Producers like Mrs. Appleby (the last producer of raw milk cheshire) and the Kirkham family (the last producer of raw milk three-day lancashire, where curds from three consecutive days of cheesemaking are combined to make one cheese) were celebrated for the superior flavor of their raw milk farmhouse cheese.
Today, it has enjoyed so much success that Neal’s Yard Dairy is helping to revive a lost tradition — raw milk Stilton. Stilton is England’s king of blue cheese, traditionally eaten around the holiday season with a bottle of Port wine. However, because of fear about raw milk, the Stilton maker’s association decided in the late 1980′s to mandate the use of pasteurization for any cheese which bears the name “Stilton.” So instead, the new raw milk blue cheese is being called “Stichelton” — ironically the original name of the village of Stilton. Although it cannot legally bear the name Stilton, the “Stichelton” is the most traditional Stilton made in England. It is made on the farm, in the traditional protected Stilton region, and is prized for the care and attention to detail which makes it unique.
Photo Credit: CowgirlCreamery.com
See yesterday’s article on French Soft Ripened Cheese.
Here is the previous post on Switzerland: Gruyere and other Alpine Cheeses.
Here is the opening post for this series on Old World Traditions in Raw Milk Cheese.
Coming soon, another series on American Artisan Raw Milk Cheese.
Bill Anderson is 25 year old apprentice cheese maker living in Madison, WI. Born in Wisconsin, and raised on lots of Wisconsin cheese, he became interested in raw milk and artisan dairy in his early 20′s, at local farmer’s markets and local food functions. Bill worked for a number of years as a cheese monger, and is now poised to begin producing his own brand of artisan raw milk cheese with milk from some of the best organic and sustainable Wisconsin dairy farms.