Natural Blue Cheddar

More ‘out of the blue‘ interesting cheesy facts

 by our very own Emma Hill

Writing about cheese rind got me thinking about the role of microorganisms such as bacteria and moulds have in cheese-making – after all, without them we wouldn’t have cheese! Like cheese rind, it seems that many of us are a bit wary of mould, maybe because it is usually associated with ‘old’ or deteriorated food. But as far as cheese is concerned there is nothing ‘wrong’ with most moulds found on or even in your cheese;  moreover, they play a significant role in producing some of the most delicious varieties of flavours and textures in many cheeses.

Cheese-makers have been manipulating moulds and bacteria to develop different flavours and textures for many hundreds of years. When or how they first started to harness this natural phenomenon is uncertain. Of course, there are a number of myths and legends associated with it, but (forgetful shepherds and milk maids aside) what we can deduce is that many of the limestone caves, cellars and barns where cheese was most often stored would have provided the ideal environment in which moulds and bacteria grow and thrive. Over time cheese-makers learnt to recognise which moulds create the most desirable cheeses and sought the optimum conditions in which to store their cheese to allow the preferred moulds to grow.

Interestingly, we have no qualms about eating the ‘blue’ (mould) in blue cheese such as Stilton, or even the white mould of Brie – perhaps because it’s expected? But what about Cheddar Cheese?

In more recent years blue mould in cheddar cheese has mostly been considered a defect and often rejected. Indeed, you’ll be hard pressed to find any Blue Cheddar for sale on any shelves of any supermarket! To avoid wasting their efforts producing ‘unsellable’ cheese, all cheddar cheesemakers now aim to reduce the chances of their cheese containing any natural ‘blue’. Producing large scale block-formed cheddar and maturing in plastic bags prevents mould developing in most cheddar cheese today.

Why does ‘BLUE’ develop in traditional cheddar cheese?

For those who produce (intentionally) blue cheese for example Stilton, Roquefort or Castello Creamy Blue, a mould, such as Penicillium roqueforti is added to the milk before the cheese is made. Later, during maturation, blue veins develop within the body of the cheese.

For us ‘natural blueing’ can occur when the outside rind cracks or gets damaged, enabling an access point for natural environmental moulds to enter the body of the cheese. Our cheese is cloth bound and long-matured in cool humid store rooms (including the natural caves in Cheddar Gorge) which are ideal environments for traditional cheddar cheese development, but so too for mould spores!  If they manage to get through our (normally) protective rind, mould spores will thrive in the body of our cheeses.

Natural blueing in cheese was much more common before more efficient methods of making and storing cheese were developed; during the 19th Century Wensleydale was actually considered to be a ‘blue cheese’ and naturally blue Cheshire Cheese was a local delicacy commonly known as ‘Green Fade’.

Modern cheese-making is more refined these days where specific strains of blue mould can be selected to create exact flavour and texture profiles by the cheese maker.

Our Natural Blue Cheddar

Although the unrefined natural blue mould found in our cheddar isn’t quite the same as the more refined, intentional strains used in modern style blue cheeses, it still influences the cheese in a similar way; producing a subtle and interesting  ‘blue’ flavour. Despite intending to make a non-blue traditional cheddar cheese, we do occasionally discover these blue veins – only at the point when we cut open our huge 25Kg cheddars!

Our authentic cheddars have drier, more ‘friable,’ crystalline textures so are susceptible to cracks forming on the outside rind as they mature and dry over time. We have to take great care to avoid knocking or bumping our cheeses when we turn them whilst they mature, as careless handling could very easily crack the rind.

We like to think of it as ♥ a happy accident ♥ , because natural blue cheddar is always a surprise for us. It’s delicious and interesting!

It’s something unusual to talk about with the visitors to our shop in Cheddar.

I always like to think of it as getting two cheeses in one!

If you’d like to try our Natural Blue Cheddar you can visit our shop in Cheddar Gorge or buy it online HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Milk Matters

As it’s the start of the year I thought it would be interesting to write a bit about our cheese-making process which of course starts with the delivery of the milk each morning. And as we all know, milk is the key ingredient when making cheese, so it makes sense that to make delicious cheese you need to start with good quality milk.

What is Milk exactly?

Simply put, milk is composed of water (87%), Carbohydrate (4.5%), fat (4.4%), protein (3.4%) and minerals (0.8%). These are our average values of the milk we use to make our authentic cheddar cheese. These values will differ slightly each day, between individual cows, different breeds and different times of the year.

In comparison once the milk has been converted into cheese the composition changes to: water (35%), Carbohydrate (0.1%), fat (34.3%), protein (25.4%) and minerals (5.2%).

Cheese is the oldest way of preserving milk and is an excellent source of nutrients. It’s a good source of Calcium, protein, fat, vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Zinc, Riboflavin, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Our Cheddar contains only around 1.7% salt and is low in carbohydrate (0.01%) as most is removed in the whey or converted into lactic acid during the cheese-making processes (which is why, contrary to popular belief, that those with lactose intolerance can still enjoy eating our cheese!)

Did you know?! While milk is primarily composed of water which is a colourless liquid, the other components of milk (fat, protein, lactose, minerals and vitamins) influence the colour of milk. The fat and protein molecules in milk reflect light at a wavelength that makes the liquid appear white. Milk fat, on its own, has a yellow hue due to pigments such as beta-carotene that the cow gets from eating grass.  During the cheese making process, the water is removed and the fat is concentrated  which is why cheese is yellow!
But does milk really matter?

Yes it does! Large scale cheese producers need to source large quantities of milk, supplied from many farms. Once delivered to the factory, the milk is stored before use – usually in large cylindrical silos, and then pasteurised and (usually) standardised before use. These two processes ensure a consistent raw material is used to make a consistent cheese.

If the cheese is made from raw milk, the quality and composition is even more important; this milk will not be pasteurised before use.

Pasteurisation was developed by a French Scientist called Louis Pasteur during the nineteenth century. Pasteur discovered that heating milk to a high temperature and then quickly cooling it before bottling kept it fresher for longer. Today, the process of pasteurisation is widely used within the food and drink industry, and it is the most common form of heat treatment used in the UK.

Pasteurisation is widely used in cheese making specifically to minimise the risk presented by storing raw milk before use. Delaying the use of the milk increases the likelihood of harmful bacteria developing in the milk. Pasteurisation denatures proteins, including destroying all bacteria. Ensuring there are no pathogens (harmful bacteria) in milk is essential for food safety; however this process also destroys non harmful bacteria and enzymes naturally present in the milk.

Before pasteurisation was introduced, all Cheeses were made from raw-milk and commonly made on the farm from the farmers own herd of cattle.  These days raw-milk cheeses are still fairly common in Europe; Parmesan, for example, is always made with unpasteurised milk (the Italian decree insists on it), as is Swiss Gruyère, Roquefort, Comté etc.. but only a handful of cheese-makers in the UK make raw-milk cheese – of which we are one!

So, what makes raw-milk cheese so special?

Cows grazing the lush pastures surrounding the village of Cheddar

The milk is one of the most important aspects of our cheese and we believe that the very best Cheddar is created in harmony with the land. The special conditions here in Somerset are vital to producing exceptional cheddar cheese. The unique landscape of Cheddar and the lush pastures that surround it contribute to high quality milk which in turn produces high quality cheese. For an exceptional cheddar the flavour is derived from the composition of the milk. This is of course influenced both by the cow and it’s diet, also the geography of the land where the cows live (the soil, altitude, aspect, weather and quality of grass) – also known as the ‘terroir’. Our milk is sourced from just one local farm & delivered fresh each morning to our dairy. The milk is not pasteurised, so that all the valuable flavour-enhancing bacteria, enzymes, proteins and minerals are retained. By using only one milk source and maintaining excellent hygiene standards, we ensure we produce the highest quality cheddar both in terms of flavour and safety.

The milk, with its unique combination of natural microbes, influences both the flavour and texture of our cheese and one of the most interesting aspects of working with a raw product as microbially active as our milk, is that no batch of cheese is ever the same. The changing seasons influence the quantity and quality of the milk and everything from the climate, health, breeding cycle and most importantly the type of grasses and other natural fodder that the cows feed on will affect the final flavours of our cheese.

Cow breed also plays a major part in the quality of the milk because different breeds produce different levels of fat and protein. The more fat and protein in the milk means more cheese, but the specific types of fat and protein, which vary between breeds, all make a difference to the cheese quality. The differing fats and proteins are captured in the cheese, and, in time, broken down to create the flavour. There is also evidence that differing breeds affect other aspects of cheese-making too, for example some breeds have more ‘lactic acid’ bacteria in their milk, which influences the cheese making process.

Holstein-Friesian Cattle – Cheddar, Somerset

Interestingly, many famous European cheeses are made to rules that stipulate the exact breed that must be used to make that cheese.

In the 19th Century before the influx of more modern breeds, traditional breeds such as the Shorthorn and Ayrshire were commonly used, although the county of Somerset actually had it’s very own breed of cow – the ‘Sheeted Somerset’ – so called because of the distinctive white “sheet” forming the mid-section of the cow’s torso. Sadly the breed became extinct by the 1930s as farming requirements changed and new breeds were introduced from other areas of the UK and Europe.

Last herd of Sheeted Somerset. Photo taken at Broadlands Estate 1930s

These days the most common dairy breed in the UK is the Holstein-Friesen. Considered to be the ultimate dairy cow, these black/brown and white cattle are a common sight across the British countryside, although they were actually brought over from Friesland in the Netherlands and Holstein in Germany after the Second World War. Although commonly used for the liquid milk market some herds are managed, fed and bred specifically for cheese making.

So, to answer the question – YES! milk DOES matter! and the proof is in the pudding (or the cheese).

Is there something you’d like to know a little more about? why not get in touch and let us know – retail@cheddar.ltd

Emma 🙂

Cheesemas is Coming

THIS piece has been written by a lovely member of our team – Emma. ‘Crafty’ Emma- as she is known (to distinguish her from another Emma here) – is multi talented!  She not only supervises our shop here in Cheddar but also looks after the designs of our displays, our shop window and helps us with new range ideas. Emma hand-made our unique cow print staff face coverings when COVID hit, produced bunting and hand makes our shop decorations! She is also our expert GUIDE and will be greeting you when our new VIP tours start in 2022. Yet another string to her bow includes writing  – see below –  this piece which gives us an insight to eating cheese at Christmas includes a recipe, again designed by her!

Thanks Emma.

CHRISTMAS is upon us yet again and what a whirlwind of a year we’ve had too.

Food always seems to hit the pinnacle of deliciousness around Christmas. More thought goes into food now than at any other time of the year, from preparing vast spreads of food for friends and family, down to the little treats we allow ourselves. An integral part of any Christmas lunch or Boxing Day buffet, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a good spread of cheeses!

Cheese can also make the perfect Christmas Gift, whether you have a cheese enthusiast in your life or that oh so difficult to buy for relative or just simply want to treat yourself, we have a great selection to hand, both online and in our shop and we’re always happy to provide advice and guidance on choosing the ideal gift. We have the same philosophy when sending cheese out via our website online shop, as we do when preparing it directly for our shop customers. We’re not mere internet traders; all our Cheddar and accompaniments are carefully packaged by our team here at CGCC HQ in Cheddar Gorge to ensure that it reaches its destination in the same condition that it left us, so you can rest assured of excellent quality artisan Cheddar Cheese this Christmas!

Where did the tradition of eating cheese at Christmas come from?

Over the decades, cheese has been become synonymous with Christmas; But why? Well, the answer lies with the origins of cheese-making. Exactly when or how the first cheese came about no one can really be sure, but what we do know, is that the production of cheese is an excellent way of preserving milk. Our ancestors learnt to transform milk into cheese ensuring a long-lasting food source to see them through the leaner months of the year. Traditionally in times gone by, most of our favourite cheeses were actually seasonal; the seasonality of milk quality and quantity dictated which cheeses were available at different times of the year. Cheddar was made from surplus milk in the spring and summer, thus reaching full maturity in the autumn at the end of the season and the best Stilton is made using milk from late September pastures reaching its prime at 12 weeks old which coincides with the Christmas season, which is why Cheddar and Stilton even now, are the top two cheeses of choice on our Christmas tables.

The association of eating cheese specifically at Christmas came later and can be traced back to the Victorian era. It’s during this time period that many of the traditions that we associate with our modern day Christmas came about. Victorian Christmas contained all the elements of a traditional Christmas such as Santa Clause, Christmas trees, crackers, cards, Christmas cake, pudding and of course cheese:

“The ceremony of ‘Cutting the Christmas Cheese’, to be served with cake or biscuits to the assembled company, marking the start of the Christmas Celebrations”

is widely recorded from the mid-18th Century into the early 20th.

“The cutting of the Christmas cheese is done by the master of the house on Christmas Eve and is a ceremony not to be lightly omitted. All comers to the house are invited to partake of the pepper cake and cheese.

It was also often given to carol singers:

“A little bit of pepper-cake, a little bit of cheese, a little drink of water, and a penny, if you please.”

“On Christmas Eve one Yule cake is given to each member of the family, along with a piece of Christmas cheese. As a rule, part of it is left for Christmas morning, and eaten at the breakfast.” 

Now, the thought of eating cheese with Christmas cake might seem like an odd medley (particularly if you live down south) but it does actually make sense when you consider how wonderfully fruits compliment cheese.  It appears that the tradition of eating fruitcake and cheese started in Yorkshire before later spreading throughout the other counties. It’s an age-old tradition that has survived through to the 21st century in the north of England, but seems much less common in other parts of the UK.

Nowadays we have the luxury of being able to enjoy cheese all year round, but when faced with the pressures of Christmas shopping, we’re often tempted to succumb to the pre-packed supermarket selection boxes. But buying decent cheese needn’t be a hassle. We’re very fortunate to live in a country that produces some of the world’s best cheeses. Check out ‘THE GLOBAL CHEESE AWARDS’ for a comprehensive list of world class British cheese makers.

The British cheese-making scene is as vibrant and exciting as it has ever been and good quality, authentic artisan cheeses are more widely available than ever before. If you don’t have a cheese-monger in your local high-street then fear not – the majority of your favourite artisan cheeses are available to purchase from the comfort of your own home online. In short, there really is no excuse for serving bland supermarket selections to your dinner guests this festive season!

Serving your cheese at its best

It is true, as with any spectacle, that a lot of work takes place behind the scenes to prepare our Cheddar for its moment of glory. Producing cheese is both a science and an art. Cheese can be quite the diva; temperature, air flow and humidity have to be just to each cheese’s liking, and that’s before you consider the daily cleaning, brushing and turning regime. Special attention is taken to select the cheese at just the right time of maturity to be cut by hand and carefully packaged for sale. Just as much care and attention should be taken in how we serve and eat our cheese as it takes to make it, so here we have our Staff Top Tips for serving our award-winning cheddar:

  • Don’t serve cheese straight from the fridge; To enjoy cheese at its best you should always serve it at room temperature. Take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it – keep it covered with a slightly damp tea towel.
  • It might be tempting to display whole wedges of cheese on your board but try not to put out more then you need to keep your cheese at its best. A good rule of thumb is to allow approx. 50g per person if serving at the end of the meal or up to around 100g per person if the cheeseboard is to be the main meal
  • Don’t return unwrapped or partially exposed cheese to the fridge; Keep the rest of your cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper or foil or good quality film in the fridge, preferably within a Tupperware box or in the salad drawer of your fridge. If your fridge is full don’t despair!  Any cool place such as a shed, garage or car boot will do. (Protect from possible furry friends!). Our cheddar is a hard cheese so less temperature sensitive than many soft cheeses.

In terms of accompaniments, cheese is pretty versatile. Thick slices of crusty bread, crisp crackers or salty oat biscuits. Equally, the same chutneys that go well with the festive ham and cold turkey on boxing day will also pair well with cheese as well as a variety of fruit, nuts and meats such as salami and prosciutto.

Christmas Cheese Leftover Recipe

As the Christmas festivities draws to an end, New Year is just around the corner, and as we all know, New Year Parties are nothing without the staple cheese board in the centre of the buffet table! Now, we may well be giving ourselves a well earned break over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but don’t worry – we’ll be up and running again in time for you to place your orders so you can enjoy the New Years celebrations with your favourite tipple accompanied by a selection of your choice Cheddars. But once all the celebrations are over and we set our good intentions for the year ahead, it’s time to dig out any uneaten cheese you may have hidden away at the back of your fridge. It may look a little sad, dried up and at the end of its life, but have faith – we can put all this cheese to good use and don’t leave the rind behind! You can read more about Cheddar Rind and ways to use it in our previous blog: The Humble Cheese Rind.

There’s a huge resource online for some delicious cheese leftover ideas or try out our Cheddar Cider Bake recipe below.

Here in the West Country Cheese & Cider are a staple part of the festivities (or any time of the year for that matter) so this fondue-inspired recipe is a great combination of the two. This recipe is intended to be a little thicker consistency than fondue, but you can always thin the mixture by adding more liquid if you prefer.

Ingredients

  • 350ml Cider of your choice
  • 180ml Chicken stock
  • 450g Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 tbls Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves of Garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Corn Flour
  • Pinch of Salt and Cayenne Pepper

Method

  • Heat the Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a pan over a medium heat before adding the cider and chicken stock and allow to simmer for approx. 5 minutes
  • Whilst your cider mixture is simmering, grate your Cheddar into a bowl before mixing in with the corn flour
  • Sprinkle the cheese into the warm cider broth a spoonful at a time continuously stirring the mixture
  • Once all the cheese is added continue stirring until the cheese is fully melted and smooth
  • Add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper before transferring to a dish and place in the oven for 15 – 20 mins or until golden
  • Serve hot straight from the oven. I personally like to eat mine with chunks of sourdough or toast but you could serve whatever ‘dippers’ you fancy!

The village that lost its cheese

This lovely article was written by journalist Lizzie Enfield and published on the BBC news app on 11th November 2021.

Lizzie was meticulously thorough in her research and, since being published, we have been inundated with messages from around the world! Many from homesick expats eager to try traditional cheddar cheese again and others who are simply cheese lovers.

Oh how we wish we could send cheese to all those who requested it …

 

CHEDDAR has conquered the world, but it wasn’t produced in its namesake English town for years. Now, an award-winning dairy is putting Cheddar, England back on the map.
Stilton, Cheshire, red Leicester. There are more than 700 cheeses produced in the UK, but in parts of the English-speaking world, a certain type is so ubiquitous that it’s simply referred to as “cheese”.

Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the UK, accounting for nearly half of all British cheese sales, and according to recent polls, it’s the favourite cheese among Americans and Aussies, and one of the most-eaten types in Canada, too. But while cheddar has become a dairy staple from Wisconsin to Wales, the fact that one of the world’s most-consumed cheeses has no protected designation of origin means that it’s also become one of the most mass-produced. These days, industrialised cheddar is churned out in more than a dozen countries and the plastic-packaged blocks bear little resemblance to their cave-matured predecessors.

But if you want to taste authentic cheddar cheese, the way it originally tasted, you need to visit the 5,400-person village of Cheddar in the county of Somerset in south-west England. Here, as far back as the late Middle Ages, cheese makers used caves in the towering limestone cliffs of Cheddar Gorge as natural refrigerators.

Back then – and for centuries afterward – cheese would have been made in small individual dairies. But as a result of rationing during World War Two, most of the milk in Britain was used to make a single generic cheese dubbed “Government Cheddar“. This nearly wiped out local cheese production in Britain, slashing the number of farmhouse producers from more than 3,500 before World War One to barely 100 by the end of WW2, and, for years afterward, there was no-one making traditional cheddar in Cheddar.

That finally changed in 2003 when one local couple, Katherine and John Spencer, decided to revive the cheese making methods that had made the name of their village world famous. And now, their Cheddar-made cheddar is winning international awards.

“We spotted a gap in the market for a traditional Cheddar made where it all began,” Katherine explained from the small office adjacent to the couples’ Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company dairy. “Our aim was to perfect a quality handmade cheese, using raw milk from one farm that was more akin to the cheese that would have been made here hundreds of years ago than the mass-produced blocks we tend to associate with cheddar today.”

Although the couple had a background in the cheese industry (Katherine had worked as a continental cheese importer and John in supermarket supply), this was a new direction. With three experienced cheese makers working for them, they began researching local and historical cheese recipes. Over a six-year period, they perfected their brand of cheddar, eventually persuading local landowner Lord Bath to allow them to store some of their cheese in the same caves that gave the original cheddar its unique taste centuries earlier.

John and Katherine Spencer’s Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company recently won a slew of awards at multiple cheese competitions

According to professor Paul Kindstedt, who teaches a course on the history of cheese at University of Vermont, cheddar’s origins go back to the 14th Century, when local cheesemakers implemented a process known as “scalding” (heating the curds to high temperatures in order to force liquid whey from the cheese) before pressing the curds into a harder cheese. Since a cheese’s moisture level is what makes it perishable, scalding enabled cheddar to last longer.

“The superior quality of the cheese caught the attention of wealthy Londoners who visited the renowned caves of Cheddar Gorge and dined on local cheeses during their visits,” said Kindstedt. “They spread the word, and the cheese from Cheddar acquired a positive reputation from around the 15th Century on.”

In fact, during part of Charles I’s reign from 1625-1649, demand outweighed supply, and cheese from Cheddar was only available at the king’s court. Even then, orders had to be placed well in advance.

By the mid-17th Century, London had become England’s main cheese market and there was pressure on cheese mongers to increase the size of their wheels. As a result, Cheddar-area cheese makers developed a process known as “cheddaring”, in which they pressed milled curds to reduce the liquid whey. Decreasing the cheese’s moisture levels after scalding rendered it even more solid, making it easier to shape the cheddar into larger, longer-lasting wheels that could be transported to London and beyond.

“The combination of scalding and cheddaring opened the door for cheese makers all over the globe, including in America, to produce a magnificent cheese,” Kindsted said. “My home state of Vermont began producing this style of cheese under the revered name of ‘cheddar’ around 200 years ago. Vermont cheddar cheese makers are keenly aware of the debt of gratitude that is owed to their English cheese maker counterparts.”

In addition to the widespread replication of cheddaring and scalding, cheddar’s march around the globe was further helped by two things, starting with emigration. As Brits moved to other parts of the world, they took English cheese making traditions with them. Many of these places – such as the US, Canada and Australia – are where cheddar continues to be wildly popular today.

The second is packaging. “In the early 19th Century, American cheese makers began wrapping their cheeses in cotton cloth, greased with lard which limited moisture loss during aging and storage,” said Kindstedt. “This evolved into waxing the cheese surface and later into wrapping cheese in vacuum-packed plastic laminated film.”

This development allowed cheddar production to be scaled-up and industrialised to an extent the world had never seen. Before long, there was so much cheddar cheese being produced outside of England that the US became a major supplier of cheddar to England and led to a decline in the industry there.

But while cheddar was being recreated around the globe, it remained quintessentially British. In 1840 Queen Victoria received a massive cheddar “drum” weighing 558kg as a wedding gift. And Royal Navy officer Robert Falcon Scott took nearly 1,600kg of the stuff with him on board The Discovery during his famous 1901 expedition of Antarctica.

According to Katherine, cheddar’s early popularity was intrinsically tied to the climate and topography around the village where it was first produced.

“In Somerset we have a lot of rainfall, which produces good quality grass, and the Holstein Freisian cattle which graze it have just the right combination of fat and protein in their milk to make a quality hard cheese,” she explained. “Where nowadays dairies use milk from different herds, we use a single unpasteurised milk and begin cheese making within an hour of milking, just as our predecessors would have done.”

From behind a glass viewing gallery, visitors to the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company can watch cheese makers perform the intensely physical ritual of cheddaring. They shovel heated curds onto a cooling table, squeeze them into blocks, pull a large cheese knife through to cut the blocks before turning, stacking, squeezing and re-cutting the blocks as soon as the curds begin to knit together to remove every last remnant of whey.

In pre-Covid times, visitors could also take a tour of the nearby caves and see the cheeses stored on high shelves behind protective wire-mesh screens (to stop the bats that also inhabit the caves from getting at them).

The humidity in the caves allows the moulds on the outside of the cheese to bloom

“The humidity in the caves allows the moulds on the outside of the cheese to bloom,” said Katherine, as she showed me cheese surrounded with mould so white and fluffy it resembled cotton wool. “This produces a flavour that is much more earthy and complex than other cheese. There are hints of mould and multiple layers of taste that continue to develop on the tongue.”

This robust-tasting cheese made in the Cheddar caves is what captured the imagination of 17th-Century Britain, and later the world.

“The story of cheddar, its spread, its bastardisation, its loss of identity and its reinvention is a very good example of… the very complex way in which society and economics and capitalist philosophies work,” said food historian and broadcaster Dr Annie Gray. “The return of small-scale production speaks volumes about our desire to revalue foodstuffs, to be inspired by the past and to recognise the glories of British food. But these tend to be values that only the middle classes can afford to support.”

Case in point: 200g of The Spenser’s cheddar costs about £5.60, whereas standard supermarket cheddar blocks can sell for as little as £1.00, but the taste is very different; the stuff from Cheddar has a sharp, strong taste that develops in the mouth, much like a fine wine.

The Spencer’s Cheddar has also won many prestigious awards, including two gold medals at the 2021 Global Cheese Awards for its cave-matured and yellow cheddar and a silver for its vintage cheddar (which is aged up to 30 months). That’s no mean feat for a small producer from a tiny town competing with larger ones all over the world.

“If cheddar had remained a small-batch West Country product, it might well have disappeared altogether, as many regional cheeses have,” said Katherine. “Its transition to a major global player has created international recognition, and with it, an appetite for our product that is closer to the original cheddar that would have been made here hundreds of years ago. Our success mirrors the success of cheddar as a cheese in all its forms.”

 

 

The Humble Cheese Rind

Cheese is one of life’s pleasures, as addictive as narcotics, but thankfully much better for us.

Professor Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth, has a theory that the French are slimmer because they eat funky cheeses full of good bacteria that are vital for a healthy digestive system.

 

Can I eat the rind?

It’s a common conundrum and a question that we come across on an almost daily basis here in our shop and visitor centre in Cheddar Gorge. The simple answer is yes, although some cheese rinds are more palatable than others. Although they may be edible, not all rinds are made equal; whether or not you like the rind will come down to your personal palate.

Rinds, simply put, are the outside layer of a cheese which develops during the aging process; our traditional cheddar has a natural rind which develops through evaporation of moisture through the traditional cloth with which we dress our cheese. This thin crust protects the internal body of the cheese or paste, prolonging the life of the whole cheese. The cheese rind will also host vital moulds and microorganisms which contribute hugely to flavour. Left to their own devices, cheese will naturally form a rind, although in the case of some cheeses the rind is influenced by the cheesemaker. There are many different types of rind such as mould ripened, brine washed and pierced.

traditional cheddar has a natural rind

Natural rinds have the least amount of intervention. Traditional Cheddar is matured in cloth, allowing the cheese to ‘breath’ whilst it ages, exposing it to the all-important microflora and humidity that plays such an integral part in the overall flavours and textures of the cheese.  Sadly, the majority of Cheddar style cheeses found in today’s market are aged in plastic film or other protective coatings such as wax, which prevents rind formation, so it’s not so surprising that many of us have never encountered a Cheddar rind before.

cheese dressing – traditional cheddar is matured in cloth

Most rinds are edible and will enhance the cheeses overall flavour. The natural flavours of a cheddar rind reflect its aging environment – mushroom, earthy or even a subtle nuttiness – its nature’s compliment to the paste of the cheese and its always worth sampling a small portion to see what flavour, if any, the rind adds to your cheese eating experience. Take a little nibble of cheese with the rind and let your taste buds guide you. If the flavour and texture of the rind enhances the experience of eating the cheese, then go for it!

 

Some of us enjoy eating the rind just as it is, but if not, then don’t worry – the harder almost chewy texture of cheddar rind (particularly long-matured cheddars) isn’t to everyone’s taste – but once you’ve finished eating the good stuff, resist the temptation to banish the rinds to the compost bin and give it a new lease of life as a flavour-boosting addition to some of your favourite dishes instead.

The rind can be simply grated onto pasta dishes like spaghetti Bolognese or sprinkled over al-dente vegetables or try crisping thin slices of rind in the grill or cutting up into cubes and frying to serve with soups instead of croutons. Your cheese rind can also be used to add extra savoury flavours to soups, stews and sauces – simply add the rinds as you would a bay leaf and fish out what’s left before serving.

If you have a little more time to spare, cheese rind works wonders as a stock, adding an extra depth of flavour which can be used as a rich broth for soups, hot pots, pie fillings and casseroles or a base for risottos, pan sauces or even braising meat and vegetables.

Cheese Rind Broth

This savoury broth can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge up to 3 days before using or freeze in small batches for up to 3 months.

our Vintage rind makes a delicious savoury addition to your favourite dishes

* Caramelise a couple of shallots (or an onion) and garlic in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat

* Add a bunch of thyme, several sprigs of parsley and couple of bay leaves and a tsp of black peppercorns (You can add a generous glug of white wine at this point     if you wish, bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the liquid is reduced by approx. half)

* Add your cheese rinds and top up the pan with water and any vegetables you like – celery, carrots etc… bring to the boil over a high heat

* Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ – 2 hours stirring occasionally before straining

Rose Farm: The perfect Partners

A Visit to Rose Farm – producers of Somerset preserves. The perfect accompaniments for cheddar cheese.

Recently I popped over to visit Richard and Charlotte, the owners of Rose Farm Products. The first thing that hit me was the delicious smell! (3 of their cooks were busy in their kitchen producing the day’s batches). All their products are made by hand in small batch, open pans. They produce a vast range of Chutneys, Pickles, Relishes and Jams! And because of this special visit, I now know the difference between these different methods of preserving! Do you know the difference between a chutney, and pickle and a relish? If not, read on to find out!

Just 4 miles from our Dairy in Cheddar their production site can be found down a narrow country lane with exquisite views across the green fields towards the Mendip Hills. The view from the office window is enviable.

These days Rose Farm HQ specialises in make over 100 traditional chutneys, pickles, sauces, jams, and dressings. Ingredients are carefully selected to produce many local and family recipes, and this is evident.

Richard started the business in 1985. He had previously been a Poultry Farmer but struggled to sell his small sized eggs, apparently nobody wants small eggs! To solve this problem, he started pickling them himself and began selling them to local pubs. Soon the pub landlords wanted pickled onions too and it was this that spurred Richard on to extend the ‘pickled’ range; instead of buying these products in, he decided to make them himself.

Charlotte, Richard’s daughter joined in 2003 and has helped to grow the business bringing to it her retail experience – including her graduate training scheme at Harrods no less! She was keen to protect her grandmother’s recipe for Harvest Chutney which they still produce today, and it is delicious. It is their best-selling product and having now registered the name, Charlotte has ensured nobody else in the country can produce a ‘Harvest Chutney’.

After our chat, Charlotte and Richard took me into their ‘kitchen’ where their small team of cooks were attending the day’s batches, busily stirring pans, filling jars or positioning labels. Everything is done by hand with all the attention to detail this brings with it. I really enjoyed my tour and more than that, enjoyed spending time with Richard and Charlotte. We had many things in common; both small family businesses, making small batch high quality products, by hand, relying on a small, dedicated team of lovely staff who are conscientious, consistent but also fun!

So finally, for those of you who are curious, Chutneys are sweet, they contain softer ingredients having been cooked for longer than Pickles – which are made with more chunky, harder vegetables and contain more vinegar than Chutneys. Relishes however are cooked for much longer than the other two which results in a sweet, more sticky consistency. We sell many of their PRESERVES both in our shop in Cheddar Gorge and online through our website – all of which complement our traditional cheddar beautifully.

 

Thank you, Richard and Charlotte.

June already!

We’re ready for summer; JOIN US!

As we continue on the road map to freedom we’re getting excited about what’s ahead this month.  Here are some positive thoughts and reasons to be cheerful. Read on to find out more….

  1. Why is our cheddar special?

  2. We’ve won another Award for our VINTAGE Cheddar 😃

  3. Join us to celebrate NATIONAL CHEESE DAY on June 4th

  4. Have you considered a holiday in the South West?

  5. Our VISITOR CENTRE is bustling again – watch us make cheese ‘live’

  6. Some positive reviews we’d like to share

OUR CHEESE

Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the world – and with good reason. It can be mild, strong, creamy, hard, it can have a rind, and can be tingly, crunchy, complex and smooth. Some of us can produce cheddars which have all these qualities.

Thousands of tons of cheddar cheese are sold in the UK every year! We try to replicate how cheddar was originally made – by hand, with raw milk and long-matured in cloth. Most importantly, in the village of Cheddar itself. Hence our strap line:

THE ONLY CHEDDAR MADE IN CHEDDAR

All our cheese is made from raw cow’s milk sourced from one local farm. As a small family run business we have made it our mission to produce heritage cheddar cheese true to its regional provenance and traditions. Since 2003 we have succeeded in doing exactly that, winning some major awards along the way and most importantly, preserving this dying tradition.

We make TRADITIONAL Cheddar by hand with raw milk. This is long-matured in cloth which significantly affects the flavour and texture. We can’t compete with the large scale industrial cheddar cheese manufacturers on price and volume but we do compete on taste! If you’re looking for a cheddar  “like it used to taste” with a strong, long, complex flavour then we might have what you’re looking for.

We’re delighted to be OPEN again in Cheddar Gorge – both our shop and Visitor Centre. If you are in the area or passing through Somerset, please call in. We’d love to see you.

 

Here is a recent photo of the lovely ladies who produce our milk

VIRTUAL CHEESE AWARDS

Cheese competitions have gone all hi-tech! The new VIRTUAL CHEESE AWARDS were held in May – AND we could watch the actual cheese judging ‘live’! This was interesting and scary at the same time. Our Vintage Cheddar won 2nd place in the Traditional Cheddar Cheese Category. This was a lovely surprise for us because our Vintage Cheddar,  these days, is much older than it used to be (another consequence of the Pandemic). Normally we mature our Vintage for 2 years but these days it’s 30 months old – the oldest we have ever sold. We closed our shop in Cheddar during each lock-down, which has pushed the age profile on. We were concerned this would be too strong for many, but no, this extended age traditional cheddar is a rarity; and it seems the more mature the cheese, the more you like it!

As Marcus Wareing said….
You cannot beat a good cheddar and this one is delicious. Slightly crumbly and full of flavour’  

It’s National Cheese Day on June 4th

We’ve decided to make a little celebration of it this year and will be having 3 days of fun in our courtyard here in Cheddar Gorge! Our trusty Gazebo will be up again and we’ll be handing out FREE cheese toasties and warmed cheese straws to anyone we can entice in!

So, if you can make it please come along on either Friday 4th, Saturday 5th or Sunday 6th of June between 1 and 4pm to taste our toasties and learn more about the benefits of eating cheese. Why not book in to one of our afternoon Visitor Centre sessions and watch us make cheese live too?

How about a holiday in the South West this year?

With lockdowns lifting, things are looking up! However the prospect of jumping on a plane and chasing the sunshine is still in doubt, so it increasingly looks like we will be spending another summer at home in the UK.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a special holiday.

We often overlook our own island due to its familiarity. Before the pandemic, England was one of the most visited countries in the world. Perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss our home soil so quickly. Instead, why not consider what getaways the UK has to offer?

We are the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. after all, so we have an allegiance to the South West!

Cornwall

Did you know that Cornwall has been classified by the University of Exeter as having a subtropical climate? This puts Cornwall on par with parts of Australia and Vietnam. Turns out you don’t need to jump on a plane for warm weather after all!

If the weather isn’t enough to entice you, Cornwall’s picturesque towns will. Think cobbled streets, multi-coloured houses, and sandy beaches. Due to its stunning landscape, Cornwall has provided the backdrop for numerous television shows, including BBC’s Poldark, and it is the home of the famous Cornish pasty and rich Cornish clotted cream.

Devon

Like Cornwall, Devon has some fantastic beaches on offer, with the added benefit of being slightly closer to the rest of the UK and thus that bit more accessible. Bantham Beach and Croyde Bay are top spots for surfing and body boarding, whilst the Jurassic Coast is your destination for dramatic sea views and fossil collecting. Moving inland, the remarkable tors of Dartmoor provide great walking and epic photography, and there are numerous meandering rivers for paddle boarding. You can eat fresh fish and chips, enjoy some Devonshire Ales, and have a traditional Devonshire afternoon tea (don’t forget, the jam goes on top).

Somerset

Last, but not least: our very own Somerset!

Somerset is of course, home to cheddar cheese! Also cider, strawberries and stunning scenery. We may be biased, but we believe that Cheddar Gorge is something to behold. The 400 feet high cliffs (higher than the Cliffs of Dover) tower above the relatively narrow gorge. Driving through the gorge and watching this landscape unfold is spectacular; something for the bucket list.

There are countless activities to dive into in Cheddar, including cliff top hikes, caving, rock climbing and, of course, we also have a Visitor Centre where you can watch us make our traditional cheddar ‘live’ throughout the day! Click here for more details.  No need to go abroad for fantastic cheese when we have award winning cheddar right here.

In Cheddar Gorge – and the whole of the South West – there is plenty to discover, so there is no need to feel disheartened about staying local for your summer holiday. We, here at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. embody the local in everything we do. We source our milk from one local farm. Our cheeses mature on site in our stores and within the Cheddar Gorge caves. We are proud of our locality, and we encourage you to be proud too.

Stay safe this summer and book a trip in the UK.

With thanks to our lovely contributor, Carrie Gerard for this enlightening insight into the South West.

And finally, we have received some lovely reviews this week both from people who have visited us in Cheddar and those who buy our products online. Here’s a few we’d like to share…

“I ordered some cheese as a present for a friend on Monday.  Here we are on Wednesday morning and the cheese has arrived, well packed and the ice-block still frozen.   All the packaging is environmentally friendly too.  We visited the shop last September and it is a real treasure – had to queue up at the back and told my husband I wouldn’t be long.  Came out the front door with two carrier bags full!   So yummy and the cheese straws are the best I have ever tasted,   The cave-aged cheese is to die for.   Thoroughly recommend the shop and the website”Thank you Heather (online customer)

“Always helpful staff, always great cheese”  Thank you Alex – Google Review after visiting us in Cheddar

“During Covid lockdown it was difficult to get the full experience [our Visitor Centre was Closed at this time]  but the shop had good protocols, allowed tasting safely, and was lovely to visit and buy some great cheeses”  Thanks Herbie – TripaAdvisor Review

For the time being we still have our COVID protocols in place – for your safety and ours.
By limiting the number of customers into our shop, you may have a short wait. Nobody seems to mind this, and once you are in our shop you will enjoy the cool, calm, spacious space! The personal cheese tasting is less rushed and we are always happy to talk you through the different ages of cheddar – TRY BEFORE YOU BUY!

We look forward to welcoming you to Cheddar Gorge this summer

Virtual Cheese Awards 2021

2nd place for our Traditional Vintage Cheddar!

One of the very many things to suffer during the pandemic were the UK annual Cheese Awards.

These are usually held as part of the quintessentially British agricultural shows such as The Bath and West Show or the Frome Cheese Show. We’ve missed these wonderful events which showcase the best of the best of British Food, Livestock, Produce and Craft.

The Virtual Cheese Awards

These were launched in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic to promote and celebrate the fantastic British cheese industry in their time of great need. In 2020 the Virtual Cheese Awards were the only ones to take place. 

Although the 2020 Awards were organised very quickly, it still attracted over 300 entries and helped raise awareness of some fantastic British cheeses and the people who make them. All the profits from the event were donated to support cheesemakers and farming charities.

Manufacturers and consumers alike loved the modern format that allowed them watch the judging live and get instant feedback.

The Virtual Cheese Awards 2021 – they’ve been held again this year!

We are delighted to have won  SECOND place in the Traditional Vintage Cheddar Class!

Thank you to Nigel Barden who has been the supreme organiser of the Virtual Cheese awards, ably supported by a gang of esteemed cheesys! The judges were all experts in the cheese world and if you were lucky enough to watch the judging ‘live’ on May 7th this year, the assessment of each cheese was mesmerising to watch. Apart from taste, their judging included: appearance, aroma, texture and whether the cheese was true to type. It was wonderful! All winners were truly deserved.

Congratulations to Feltham Farm’s La Fresca Margarita who was the overall winner of Best of British Cheese (for the second year running!). An amazing achievement.

British Cheese Weekender

(If you missed our session on this year’s British Cheese Weekender,
you can watch it again HERE)

We were very excited to be involved!

Launched last year in response to the crisis facing the country’s specialist cheesemakers when the Pandemic struck, the British Cheese Weekender returned this year with three days of free online cheese events aimed at celebrating and supporting this fragile sector. Be transported around the country, from fields and farms to dairies and maturing rooms, as well as cheesemongers’ counters and the kitchens of top chefs. Many of the sessions can be watched again.

Have a look at the programme of events HERE

Each day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3.30pm there was a super line-up of 30 minute talks, demonstrations, interviews, wine and cheese pairings – the list was endless!

The programme of talks and speakers is now live on the What’s On page on the British Cheese Weekender Website   organised so well by Tracey Colley and Patrick McGuigan. They have included lots of information on the best places to buy cheese and any related offers. What a line up! There were chef demos from Tommy Banks, Simon Rogan, Mark Hix & James Golding, farm and dairy tours, cheese masterclasses from experts and even cheese pairings with wines and whisky.

John and Katherine from The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company had their own Saturday night slot and were chatting about their unique cheddar cheese (8.30pm on Saturday April 24th). Click on the link below to whizz to their event.

So what’s so special about The Only Cheddar Made in Cheddar?

Watch our short film HERE  to find out!

A visit from Rosanna Head

We had the privileged of meeting Rosanna Head from South East London Blog ( last October. Rosanna is passionate about ‘Community’ not only in her native SE London, but further afield (when permitted to explore!).

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.” Coretta Scott King.

The quote above appears on Rosanna’s website which is a lovely reminder about the the value of support and kindness in our communities which, these days, has never been more important.

Here’s Rosanna’s report…

Weekend trip to Cheddar to visit Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

The reason for the visit was to meet the couple behind the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, a family run business in Cheddar. As the editor of south east London blog I am passionate about local, small and artisan businesses and as many of you know, I like to get under the skin of a brand and meet the people who make the magic happen. I was delighted to be invited to interview John and Katherine Spencer, a passionate pair with a lot of knowledge in the time honoured tradition of purveying fine genuine farmhouse cheddar cheese, and proud owners of a cheese shop that has been continuously family run for generations.

The Cheddar Cheese Gorge Company is the only producer of cheddar cheese in the village of Cheddar, who use traditional methods to make cheese. They recently opened up the visitor centre post Covid-19, by appointment only, and the newly designed shop and tasting bar is open and has an improved one-way layout. It’s open from 10am every day and we were really lucky to watch the traditional cheese making process in person and get to taste some cheddar.

We held the interview in one of the store houses, a little chilly, but enamoured to be among the big cheeses that day (excuse the pun!) We talk about how this home grown company has gone from strength to strength, even through Covid-19, how the cheese gets produced and graded, the power of the humid limestone caves in Cheddar Gorge in creating the optimal flavour of cheddar and their plans for the future, oh, and a slightly cheesy love story about how they met 🙂

Rosanna Head, Editor Interviews John and Katherine Spencer, Cheddar Cheese Gorge Company.

The Cheddar

The cheese they produce, a whole cheese, as you can see in the background of the video, weighs around 26Kg and is matured for up to 24 months in its closely monitored maturing stores. Generally, the older the cheese, the stronger the flavour. The ‘mellow’ cheddars are around six months old. The oldest, ‘vintage’ cheddar is usually around two years old.

After receiving outstanding feedback and popularity for the ‘Isolation Bundles’ during the UK lockdown, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is launching two brand-new ‘Cheese Your Own’ bundles (from £25) for all cheese lovers. A great choice of traditional British cheeses are available, all very different from one another, yet each delicious in their own right. Choose from:

  • Mellow Cheddar – six months old; creamy in texture with a gentle yet still distinctive traditional cheddar taste.
  • Extra Mature – is around 15 months old so this cheddar is much stronger in taste. It’s harder in texture too, as expected from a long-matured traditional cheddar.
  • Vintage – the oldest cheddar – robust and mighty strong. Matured for more than two years, with a harder, drier texture not dissimilar to Italian Parmesan style cheese. This was my favourite!
  • Cave Matured Cheddar is one of a kind – it’s around 12 months old having been matured in the natural caves in Cheddar Gorge. Smooth, creamy yet complex. This in an interesting cheddar and very different from the others in the range which are matured in its own cheese stores.

Alternatively, you can pick from their natural smoked or other flavoured cheeses, flavoured with quality ingredients such as herbs, cider or port (no preservatives or colours used) and matured for five to six months. Allowing the curds and flavours to mature together over time produces a complimentary harmony of flavours rather than a sharp, acidic crash which often happens when ready-to-eat cheddar cheese is blended with flavours and repressed.

You can purchase these bundles whilst visiting the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company’s newly redesigned shop, as well as trying the cheeses at the tasting bar before you choose. Also, whilst there, customers can enjoy its visitor centre which combines a viewing gallery where visitors can watch the cheesemaker ‘in action’ throughout the day plus get a glimpse into one of its Maturing Stores too. A 20-minute film also shows the whole process from start to finish. It’s a great day out for kids and the whole family.

To purchase the ‘Cheese Your Own’ Bundles online for a swift home delivery, please visit https://www.cheddaronline.co.uk/ . To book a visit to watch them make their famous cheese, call 01934 742810 during office hours.

For daily updates & cheese inspiration, follow The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company on social media: Twitter @CheddarCheeseCo, Instagram @cheddargorgecheeseco and Facebook @cheddargorgecheesecompany.

Awards

‘Best Cheddar’ at the British Cheese Awards in 2013 and the ‘Champion Cheese’ at the Devon County Show in 2017, in 2018 they won another Gold at The British Cheese Awards and The Great British Food Awards 2019 selected The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company’s Vintage cheddar as being Highly Commended by, none-other, Marcus Wearing!

Getting There

Cheddar is about 3.5 hours from south east London, a nice drive and a great spot to get away for the weekend.


The Surrounding Area

Cheddar Gorge – Walking routes – Visit National Trust for walks and more info.

Ebbor Gorge – Walking routes, great views of Cheddar and Glastonbury Tor – this is the walk we did. It took about three hours, moderate and up hill a good part of the way. The views at the top were well worth the hike. Find out more on the walk we did here at Discovering Britain.

Glastonbury Town – 20 minutes drive from Cheddar, we didn’t visit this time but plan to return again soon.

Wells Historic Town and Cathedral – A quaint little market town with cathedral and palace gardens. A splattering of lovely boutique shops and cafes, the square is a great spot to watch the world go by. We enjoyed coffee and a delicious cinnamon swirl in Loaf Bakehouse. A funky relaxing space, where the bake the cakes on site – delicious!

Wookey Hole – we stayed in a basic hotel here. This village is aimed to cater mostly for families with children, with a couple of pubs and places to eat and some tourist attractions guaranteed to while away the day with the kids. Check out the Wookey Hole Caves and more here.

For more info on the area why not check out the Visit Somerset website, jam packed with info and ideas.