Common-or-Garden Asks: ”What’re your thoughts on British cheeses? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says that there’s rarely a need to look outside the UK to find excellent cheese. I know we do well at stiltons, cheddars and other semi-hard and blue cheeses but would I be restricting myself terribly with an all-British palate?”
Great question! I was going to answer it, but then I thought I would put it to somebody who actually lives and works in the UK, and knows British cheeses far better than I do. I turned to David Jowett, cheesemaker for Gorsehill Abbey farm, a small-scale, organic dairy, situated on the edge of the Cotswolds. They make a range of cheeses using milk from the farm’s Montbélairde and British Friesian cows, including St Eadburgha, St Egwin, St Oswald and St Wulfstan (All Gorsehill Abbey Photos ©2014 David Jowett). His answer was as follows:
"Right across the British Isles we are producing an amazing array of different styles of cheese, made using milk from cows, goats, sheep and buffalo. Many are produced on farms using milk from their own animals, and quite often, they are made with raw milk.
Firstly, we have the territorials - traditional cheeses made in a specific region which they are named after. Cheshire cheese, for example, was at one time the national cheese, before being overtaken by Cheddar. The Appleby family still make a farmhouse Cheshire cheese at Hawkstone Abbey farm. Their cheese is made using raw milk from their own herd, formed in tall, cylindrical drums, and is bound in muslin. The paste is flinty, clean and mouthwatering. Lancashire is another example of one of the great territorials. Graham Kirkham is a third generation cheesemaker, and just like the Applebys, makes his cheese using raw milk from his own herd. David and Jo Clarke make raw milk, single herd Red Leicester at Sparkenhoe Farm - reviving a previously extinct practice of farmhouse Lecister cheesemaking. Stilton cheese is produced by 5 licensed creameries in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire,all making the same cheese but with their own character and style. One of the Stilton creameries, Cropwell Bishop, produces a soft, Gorgonzola Dolce style cheese called Beauvale, which becomes soft and fudgey as it ages. A raw milk, farm made blue cheese called Stichelton comes from Joe Schneider at Collingthwaite Farm on the Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire.
On the Cheddar front, there are three third generation cheesemakers producing cloth bound cheese using traditional methods. Jamie Montgomery at Manor farm in Cadbury, James Keen at Moorhayes farm in Wincanton, and Tom Calver at Westcombe Dairy near Shepton Mallet are making these cheeses, which each have their own charms: Montgomery tends to be drier and brittle, with rich, savoury flavours; Keens is dense, grassy and with more acidity; Westcombe more buttery, smooth, with long underlying flavours. Fantastic, farm made Cheddar styles scan be found right across the country - Winterdale in Kent, Lincolnshire Poacher, Isle of Mull, and Dale End in Yorkshire. At Quicke’s Traditional, Mary Quicke produces clothbound truckles of Cheddar on a 450 year old family farm.
We have something else really exciting too - the modern British cheeses, made by dairy farmers who have had to add value to their milk in order to continue farming, or by new start-up cheesemakers, often looking to the continental styles of cheese to find a gap in the British cheese market.
In Lincolnshire, Michael and Mary Davenport make a soft blue cheese, Cotehill with the raw milk from their Friesian, Holstein and Red Poll cows. Cotehill is buttery, gentle and steely.
In Devon, just above the river Dart outside Totnes, Ben Harris at Ticklemore makes three blue cheeses, using cows, goats, and sheeps milk. His sheeps milk cheese, Beenleigh blue is particularly delicious. Firmer, and not so fatty texture as Roquefort, it is sweet, and almost syrupy.
France’s Loire Valley and surrounding area has some of the most well known goats cheeses in the world - St Maure, Valençay, Crottin, Chabichou, Selles-sur-Cher, to name a few. England has its own great goat milk cheeses, often made in the same lactic style as those in France. In Somerset, there’s Mary Holbrook making Tymsboro - an ashed Pyramid with milky, almondy, salty flavours. At Hill Farm Dairy, Will and Caroline make Atkinson’s Stawley - an upright cylinder with a fine tightly wrinkled rind and a dense paste with very long and interesting flavours. In Shropshire, Sarah Hampton at Brockhall Farm makes a lovely ashed log with a light, fresh and zesty; and in Herefordshire, Charlie Westhead produces Dorstone and Ragstone, two very good goats cheeses.
The Pyrenees are known for their sheeps milk Tommes, La Mancha for Manchego, and Italy for Pecorino. But just outside Coventry, at Ram Hall farm, a firm, nutty sheeps milk cheese called Berkswell is made. Lord of the Hundreds from East Sussex, and Spenwood from Village Maid Cheese in Berkshire are excellent, British, hard sheeps milk cheeses too.
Brie de Meaux and Camembert de Normandie are two of the best known French bloomy rind cheeses, but there are interesting bloomy rinds being made here too - Tunworth from Stacey Hedges and Charlotte Spruce at Hampshire Cheeses; Baron Bigod from Fen Farm Dairy in Suffolk; Sharpham Brie from the Sharpham estate in Devon; and St Eadburgha which we make at Gorsehill Abbey in the Cotswolds, using milk from our Montbéliardes.
On the rind washed front (e.g. Epoisses, Munster, Reblochon), cheeses which are bathed in brine, or alcohol from the region of production, some seriously great rind washes cheeses are made here now. Martin Gott uses raw milk from his small flock of Lacaune sheep in Cumbria - it is soft and custardy, with rich, lamby flavours. In the lowlands of Scotland, Loch Arthur Camphill Community makes a rind washed cheese called Criffel with big, powerful, brothy flavours. Durras, Milleens, Ardrahan and Gubbeen are produced on farms on the Southern Irish coast; Stinking Bishop is washed in perry in Gloucestershire, and our own St Oswald - a semi soft, rind washed cheese is lively, peanutty, and buttery.
If the small format, lactic cows milk cheeses of the Rhone Alps are your thing - St Marcellin and St Félicien for example - we have cheesemakers making this style as well. Julie Cheyney makes St Jude in Hampshire, and in a room next door to her at Thimble Cheesemakers, Paul Thomas and Hannah Roache make a tiny button of a cheese called Little Anne.
We have a rich cheesemaking culture in the British Isles, combining a great dairy heritage with modern takes on continental classics. We have cheeses being made from the Orkneys right down to tip of Cornwall; from the west coast of Wales to the flat plains of Lincolnshire; from small farms, to industrial units and railway arches. I would suggest you don’t compare the cheeses I’ve talked about to their counterparts, but think of them as the cheeses they are in their own right. These cheeses are mostly made of a small scale, and can be found in independent cheeseshops, farm shops, farmers’ markets, and delis.”
As a foreigner who works in the UK for a hospitality company which tries to offer mainly British cheeses from the southern part of England this was a great read. Thanks to @cheesenotes and David Jowett of Gorsehill Abbey for the patient and informative answer.