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Cheshire.

The oldest named British cheese.

Are you a cheesemaker, part of a farming family or Cheshire Cheese enthusiast? If so, we need your help to complete the sections below and preserve the history of Cheshire Cheese

Cheshire Cheese through the ages

One of the oldest cheese produced in the United Kingdom, Cheshire cheese has seen its popularity grow over the centuries. From when it was first produced in Roman Chester, Cheshire varieties found success throughout the North West as well as London.

Origins of Cheshire Cheese

Cheshire cheese was originally the generic name for cheese produced in the county and parts of surrounding counties. The first cheese produced in Cheshire was likely during the Roman period, in the garrison town of Chester. One of the oldest recorded named cheese in the UK, Cheshire cheese was first mentioned with Shropshire cheese in Thomas Muffet’s Health’s Improvement in 1580. While there are no other specific mentions of the cheese, the importance of Cheshire as a major dairy producing region in England was highlighted in William Malmesbury’s Gesta pontificum Anglorum (‘History of the Bishops of England’) in the mid-twelfth century. Some have claimed that Cheshire cheese was mentioned in the Domesday Book including the British Cheese Board, although this was largely discredited in Andrew Dalby’s Cheese: A Global History in 2009.

Cheshire Cheese eventually became traded across the country starting in the early 17th Century. It was one of the most popular cheese available on the UK market during the late eighteenth century. So sought-after was the cheese that it was the only one bought by the Royal Navy for consumption on its ships beginning in 1739. By 1758, the Royal Navy ordered all ships to be stocked with Cheshire cheese along with Gloucester cheese. Sales of Cheshire cheese continued to grow into the 19th century as it became a favourite in industrial towns and cities across the Midlands and the North of England. At the time it was sometimes referred to as a ‘poor man’s meat’ given it was an affordable source of protein.

In 1870, it was estimated that 12,000 tons of the cheese was produced each year according to the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. Until the late nineteenth century, Cheshire varieties were aged to harden and withstand transport markets further afield like London by horse and cart and later by boat. At the end of the century, a fresher and younger variety of the cheese that was made for shorter storage grew in popularity.

Timeline

1086
May 8 1086

Cheshire Cheese created

Cheshire cheese was officially recorded in the Domesday Book, making Cheshire the Oldest Named British Cheese.
1390
May 8 1390

Included in the first known cookbook

26 Cheshire Cheese Recipes are detailed in the Forme of Cury, England’s first known cookbook by the master chef of Richard II.
1500
May 8 1500

Cheshire Cheese declared best in Europe

John Speed, a famous 16th Century cartographer and historian, declared that Cheshire Cheese was the best cheese in all of Europe
1586
May 8 1586

Highlighted in Britain’s first encyclopedia

Cheshire cheeses is noted as “more agreeable and better relished than those of other parts of the kingdom” in Camden’s Britannia, knowns as Britain’s first printed encyclopedia.
1623
May 8 1623

Trade of Cheshire cheese to London starts by road

During this time, Cheshire was a more matured, hard cheese to stand up to the journey.
1667
May 8 1667

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub opens

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub on Fleet Street serves Cheshire cheese and coffee for breakfast. Voltaire, Samuel Johnson & Charles Dickens are customers.
1739
May 8 1739

Suffolk cheese is replaced by Cheshire Cheese for the Navy

Trade resumes at end of war and from 1739 Suffolk cheese is replaced by Cheshire Cheese for the Navy: All Naval Staff receive 3 rations per sailor per week.
1750
May 8 1750

Cheshire cheese we know today originates

After the Industrial Revolution, canals and railways open up new markets. Demand for cheaper, younger cheese increases by industrial workers, and the Cheshire cheese we know today originates

Equipment and dairies through the ages

Geography and milk sources

Cheshire cheesemaking recipes and techniques

How the Cheshire recipe has changed from 1086? The project will look at historic and current methods of production, trying to get at what makes Cheshire Cheshire.

Cheshire Cheese Variations

It is said Cheshire originated on the banks of the Dee, where shorthorn cows grazed on the water meadows from spring to autumn. The cheesemakers supposedly had three recipes to cope with the changes in milk and season to make short keeping cheeses in spring, mid-keeping for the summer, and longer keeping cheeses to last over the winter.

The Academy Cheshire Heritage will be researching this and more. Here are some more questions we will be asking about how this famous cheese is made.

Starter cultures

Starters are secrets each cheesemaker keeps very close to themselves, so we will be being respectful of each business’s business. However, starters are so important to flavour and texture we need to look as closely as we can to understand the almost magical biology of creating flavour in cheesemaking.

If you know the answer to any of these questions, we would love to hear from you

  • What were the old starter techniques and how did they develop?
  • What starter options are being used now?
  • What makes a Cheshire starter distinct?
  • Can we identify bacterial cultures critical to Cheshire cultures?
  • What variations exist within starter cultures?
  • What Cheshire cultures are available from where?

Wrapping

For cheese to keep during its maturation, it needs to be protected. in the UK this usually means cloth wrapping and Cheshire is no exception. Each cheesemaker will have their own technique, handed down from previous generations.

If you know the answer to any of these questions, we would love to hear from you

  • What techniques and materials are used for Cloth Wrapped Cheshire cheese?
  • What techniques and ingredients are used for Cloth Sealing?
  • What techniques and materials are used for Bag Wrapped Cheshire cheese?
  • Are any other wrapping techniques used (eg plasti-coat)?
  • Have any other wrapping techniques been used in the past?

Pressing

Pressing is about shaping the cheeses in moulds, not so much about water extraction.

In this section, we are looking for images and information about the following:

  • Mould shape, sizes and construction
  • Historic presses and pressing techniques
  • Hydraulic presses and their usage in Cheshire cheese making
  • Are “cheddar towers” used in the production of Cheshire cheese and if so how?
  • What is the weight of the cheese before pressing and how long is it pressed for?

If you can help us with any of the above, we would love to hear from you.

Aging and its impact on texture and flavour

Keeping cheese – affinage to use the European term – is the process of protecting the cheese while enzymes breakdown the curd to form the interesting complex flavours only time can bring. Originally keeping cheese was a hedge against time for communities with surplus milk in the good months and little to eat and trade with when the seasons turned.

We are trying to establish how and why Cheshire cheese has been matured in the past, and how that compares to the aging process now. for example:

  • How was ageing used historically within the Cheshire region?
  • What is the impact of aging on taste and texture?
  • What BioFlora was encouraged in cheese cellars and how was it encouraged?
  • What impact on the flavour and texture of the cheese do the different wrapping techniques have?
  • How are humidity and temperature used in the aging process?
  • Did Cheshire cheesemakers always affinage their own cheeses, or were there affinage houses?
  • What impact does the size/weight of the cheese have on the aging process?

If you can help us with any of the above, we would love to hear from you.

Basic structure

MakeCrumbly
Post makeWrapped/rolled or physical processes‌
Typical age profileFour months
Approximate size(s)
8kg
Geographical origin
Cheshire Plain, UK
Protected status
N/A
Species of milking animal
Cow
Breed of cow
Breed not specified
Raw/pasteurised milk
Examples of both depending on cheesemaker
Vegetarian/animal rennet
Examples of both depending on cheesemaker
Commonly encountered variationsN/A

Simple Flavors

Complex Flavors

Recipes (Traditional & Modern)

Cheshire and Fresh Herb Scones

Source: Appleby’s

Potato, Cheshire cheese and spring onion tarts

Source: deliciousmagazine.co.uk

Cheshire Cheese and Strawberry Greek Salad

Source: Belton Cheese

Cheshire and Sun-dried Tomato Scones

Source: Appleby’s

Cheshire Cheese and Smoked Salmon Quiche

Source: Belton Cheese

Know any Cheshire Cheese recipes?

We’d love to feature them

Drink matching

What tipples taste great with Cheshire Cheese?

Any ideas!

What do Cheshire folk drink with their cheese?

Only locals would know!

Any other classic matches?

We’d love to hear them.

Alvis Bros. Ltd

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Bourne

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Cheese Co

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Joseph Heler Ltd

Awaiting profile

Windsors Cheese

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Appleby’s

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Butlers Farmhouse

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Dewlay

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Singletons Dairy

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Chorlton Cheese

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Belton Cheese Ltd

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Carron Lodge

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Greenfields Dairy

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Wensleydale Dairy

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Make Cheshire Cheese?

We would love to hear from you.

Part of the Heritage Project Made possible by the generous support of the Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust 

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Can you help with any of the topics above? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

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