Some time in the early Middle Ages a community of French monks moved northwards. Cistercians, a group who believed in silent,penitential lives, sought quiet, wild places for their contemplation. Unlike the Benedictines,who were gardeners, the Cistercians were shepherds, at home in the wild hills of Northern England. There they settled, thinking that their monastery was established until Christ's second coming, and there they made cheese,first from ewes' milk, then from cows' with some ewes' milk added for texture. And they were content.
But there came a day in 1540 when the tyrant Henry the Eighth, aided by Protestant fanatics,closed the monastery, stripped it of its goods and drove the monks from their homes. But before they left the kindly monks gave the devoutly Catholic locals, who hated Henry's "reforms", the method for making Wensleydale Cheese, which is still made today in their memory.
Move on a few hundred years and I received a telephone call. My second son,Peter,an avid foodie who loves cooking and cheese,had been working as a Summer school English lecturer in a college near Wensleydale and had been able to take a trip with the students to the creamery at Hawes where the cheese is made. He wanted to share his experience with his cheese-loving father. His one regret was that he would have liked to have spoken to my father, also a cheese lover, and bring him a sample, but by then my father was no longer with us. But a good day nevertheless.
Wensleydale is now a cows' milk cheese drawn from cows that feed on the sweet grass of the limestone pastures of the Pennine Hills, which you see below. It is a white,crumbly cheese great for cheese on toast. It has a flavour that is said to make it go well with fruit, sweet fruits go well with it, and sometimes are included into the cheese itself. This is a great cheese to serve at parties, especially if it is enriched by fruit
I detect an affinity of taste and texture with the gorgeous cheese Cheshire, but Cheshire, which is great for cheese on toast, one of my favourites, comes from milk from cows reared on the sandy, but well manured soils of the county whose northern border is one mile south of my home.