English Territorial cheeses

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Cheese, Harrods Charcuterie, Fromagerie & Traiteur, Knightsbridge, London
Creative Commons License photo credit: nikoretro

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.

cheddar_cheese_making

Cheesemakers handling the curd during the cheddaring process

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

montgomery-cheddar

A wedge of Montgomery's Cheddar sits on top of a full wheel of cheddar

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.

stichelton-cheese

An opened wheel of Stichelton, the modern raw milk version of England's traditional Stilton

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.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Bill for this informative series! I have learned so much, and now crave a taste ot these unique raw masterpieces.

    Is there any one who imports these cheeses or are they outlawed in America?
    .-= Kimberly Hartke´s last blog ..Health Foodies vs. The FDA =-.

  2. Bill Anderson says:

    The more aged cheeses are available — nearly all the Alpine Cheeses are imported to the U.S., and the English Territorial cheeses are exported from the UK to the US via Neal’s Yard Dairy. They are generally available at higher end cheese stores, and some natural foods grocery stores and co-ops.

    As for the French soft-ripened cheeses, the pasteurized versions of most of those are available in the states. I have heard rumors about cheese importers sneaking the real raw milk deal in on the East Coast, and once they get past customs there isn’t much that can be done to get them off the market. So if you are willing to travel to Boston or New York city and visit some of the cheese stores there, you might get lucky. Otherwise, you’d have to travel to Europe. Hopefully that is something we can change in the coming years… Legalize soft raw milk cheese!

  3. So nice to see you celebrating all our lovely English cheeses – I have a real food blog (have joined Ann Marie’s blogroll) and feel so lucky to have all this delicious artisan produce nearby. Off to Neals Yard Dairy today, in fact! (http://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/)
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Why Eat Grass-Fed Meat? =-.

  4. Good lord, this is a dangerous series! Now I have an overwhelming desire to EAT these Cheeses! And i do not want the pasteurized dead variety! I want the real thing.

    Cheesemakers, if you are selling a fine raw cheese, at a reasonable price, speak out. This series has stimulated demand for your product. And made me very hungry for quality raw cheese.
    .-= Stanley Fishman´s last blog ..Steak and French Fries—Still My Favorite Meal =-.

  5. Oh, you are so right, Stanley. I am in Florida and just had a lovely luncheon with a Florida goat farmer. He brought artisan raw goat cheese, fromage blanc and ricotta and a yogurt cheese called Labneh. Oh my gosh, it was amazing!!

    Apparently, it is legal to sell FRESH raw cheese here in Florida from the farm. Fromage blanc is served day young, the day the milk comes out of the cow. It is amazing. I plan to blog about our luncheon next week! I am so jealous of Floridians who have access to this amazing food.

    Yes, this is a tempting series.
    .-= Kimberly Hartke´s last blog ..Letter in Support of Vernon Hershberger =-.

Trackbacks

  1. […] county where it was produced, and they are usually protected. For more information, have a look at HartkeIsOnline, a blog that gives you a quick run down on territorial […]

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