Here in the UK we’ve always produced excellent cheeses. Sam Harrington-Lowe rounds up a few of her own favourites…
I’m a cheese sort of a girl. I mean, I like puddings but given a choice, it’s always the cheese board for me. Today is actually National Cheese and Wine Day, which gives me an excuse to shovel dairy and grape in like Bacchus (pun intended). It’s a US ‘day’ but I don’t care. I feel it my duty to observe this occasion.
So I had a little think about the best British cheeses, and here’s a few of my faves. There are too many to include them all, but this is a good selection. A board, if you will.
Let’s kick off with arguably the UK’s most famous cheese; cheddar. Contrary to popular belief, the term ‘cheddar’ does not have a protected designation of origin. However, if you want the real McCoy, look for the phrase ‘West Country Farmhouse Cheddar’. Because only cheeses made from Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall cows are allowed to carry that.
For cheddar made in Cheddar, head to the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. They have a good range of cheeses, but my money is going on the Vintage. Packed with flavour, it’s quite nutty and rich with a proper kick. If you’re less keen on what I call ‘itchy gum cheese’ they have milder cheeses, but honestly, that’s not what you come to a cheddar for, is it?
Another hard(ish) cheese that gets me all excited is the Lancashire Bomb, made by Shorrocks. It’s sort of a softy hard cheese. The black wax on the outside is immediately recognisable, and it’s kind of crumbly, kind of spoonable when warm; strong enough to fill your nose, but super creamy. Moreish.
Obviously there is always the wonderful stilton to pick up here, and we’ve been making it here in the UK since the 1700s. Its provenance is a bit more protected than cheddar, but there are still varying degrees of quality. Try and find some from small producer Colston Bassett, but if not, you could do a LOT worse than Lidl’s Deluxe Mature Blue Stilton when it’s in stock.
A relative newcomer, Brighton Blue from the High Weald Dairy in Sussex is a really great little cheese. It’s perfect for those who like a blue cheese hit but don’t want to be punched to the ground by it. It’s an award-winner that’s a lot milder and more gentle than a stilton.
If you’re a brie or camembert fan, there’s good news from the UK in the shape of Baron Bigod, from the Fen Farm Dairy. I was in Norfolk recently and splurged a ridiculous amount of money on local cheeses I’d never heard of, the Baron being one, and it was outstanding. It’s somewhere between brie and camembert, a bit cabbagey on the nose but much creamier in the mouth. It’s also the only traditional raw milk Brie-de-Meaux style cheese produced in the UK. Don’t even think about eating it until it’s at least room temperature. You want this drooling on the board to be scooped up with bread or biscuit. A very impressive cheese.
Also worth a shout here is Hampshire Cheeses’ Winslade, modelled on the Alpine Vacherin Mont d’Or. Its box is pine, the scent of which gently permeates the rind. This is a mellow, earthy cheese with a pretty rind and a lingering flavour, and you should try it.
Hands up, I’m not a huge fan of the washed rind – the pungency gets into my nostrils and then I’ve sort of had it. But I couldn’t write this piece without mentioning Stinking Bishop by Charles Martell. And yes, I know there are a lot of really excellent British washed rinds out there – I’m just not personally a fan so I can’t extol their virtues. Go find an article about washed rinds.
The Bishop though, once it’s warm enough, and as long as I don’t actually sniff it too much, I can go for that. The inside is lovely and creamy, and for me it’s worth overcoming the outside honk.
Actually I’m going to mention a Scottish washed rind cheese here too, because I’ve only tried it once and it was amazing. Caboc is rolled in oats, and made with full fat cream from Highland milk. It’s an extraordinary cheese, from Highland Fine Cheeses. Keep your eyes peeled for it.
Semi hard and other stories
Stop sniggering in the back there. Firstly, let’s talk about smoked cheese. It’s another thing I feel a bit unenthusiastic about… however, almost by accident one day I discovered something extraordinary. Which is that a decent smoked cheese, brined green olives, and a really decent peaty malt whisky is a triumvirate of oral wonder. Trust me on this.
I don’t know much about smoked cheese so given a choice I’d probably plump for Applewood Smoked Cheese, produced in Ilchester in Somerset, because it’ll be reliably decent quality. But I’m open to suggestions here if you know of some really good independent smoked cheese gurus. I’m a newbie to smoked cheese.
Crumbly, dryer cheeses also sort of leave me a bit lukewarm, but a good Wensleydale – such as this Special Reserve, is a thing of joy with a slice of fruit cake (a Northern thing apparently). And further south, there’s the excellently-named Lord of the Hundreds, a ewe’s milk cheese from the Traditional Cheese Dairy. It’s not exactly crumbly, but crumbly and funky enough to be used instead of parmesan, and has a rich, warm, honeyed colour and taste. It’s an absolute corker.
When we talk about best British cheeses, goat’s cheese needs an article all of its own, really. There are so many types – hard, soft, wrapped in things, cave-aged – one could ramble. But I’ve had a few, as they say, and need to pick just a couple.
Dorstone Goats Cheese, from Neals Yard Creamery, is a very young cheese. Should be eaten within three or four weeks, and is light, and lemony and almost moussey. I like nubs of it in a sweet salad with roots, or just spooned straight in.
For a more traditional log-style goat, the White Wood from White Lake Cheese Co in Somerset is just lovely – a soft bloom on the outside, almost funky mushroomy flavour. Soft and creamy. Utter and complete heaven with truffled honey and a charcoal biscuit.
So there you are. Just a few to tinker with. There are so many I adore, I could write a book. And originally I was going to include British wines with this article, but I think I’ll do those separately. Indulge in a little more, ahem, research.
Finally – a word to the wise. If you’re offering a cheese board to guests, or making one up just to guzzle yourself, less is more. Have two or three really good cheeses, rather than a whole range of different things going on. Better on the palate.
If you have British produce you’d like me to explore, find me on Twitter @SamHL