Cheeseboard

by frankbeswick

There is a vast range of cheeses to be relished, but they come in several types.

I come from Britain, an island which can boast of a range of historic cheeses, and new ones are being developed by cheesemakers new and old. Some types of cheese have a history
rooted beyond records, Cheshire, for example, which might be descended from the cheese fed to Roman legionaries at Chester. Others descend from the cheeses made by monks. Some are more recent, and occasionally a brand fails and falls out of production, but all are integral to the rich tapestry of the history of cheese.

Picture courtesy of Omi Sido,of Pixabay

Overview

My formative years were in the 1950s, a happy time, but a decade when war time austerity still left its mark. Moreover, I did not come from a rich family, and so mother had to economise. But I never went hungry. But the cheese that I knew was quite limited, and for many a year I only knew Cheddar. In fact, cheesemaking in the 1950s was at its lowest ebb, and I must  have been about nine when my Mother managed to get some  Cheshire Cheese. I had never seen it, even though I lived in lands that were part of the historic county of Cheshire. My father, who was an avid cheese devotee, was later to introduce me to other types, such as Gorgonzola. I dedicate this article to his memory.

Cheese can be made with any kind of milk, but British and Irish cheeses use predominantly cow's milk, though sheep and goats are becoming more popular. Buffalo milk cheese is as rare as farmed buffalo are in Britain. Mare's cheese is not made at all anywhere in Europe. Cattle are ideal for cheesemaking as they give milk all year round, unlike sheep and goats, which take a break in Winter. Sheep's milk cheese is rare in Britain because farmers have sheep spread over the hills for most of the  year, while cheesemaking requires them to be available at the milking parlour on a daily basis. Sheep and goat's milk are richer in solids than cow's milk is and better in terms of nutrients, but these  animals are not as good for bulk production as cows are. Goat's milk cheese is said to be easily digestible because the fat content is contained in smaller globules than  cow's milk has. Vegan cheese uses a range of plant milks, and coconut milk is said to produce a tasty cheese. 

Cheesemaking requires a curdling agent to work on the milk, and this agent is added when the cheese reaches the right temperature, which is about 22 degrees centigrade. In the past most cheese used rennet, an enzyme based substance found in a calf's stomach, but there are problems with rennet in that vegetarians cannot eat cheese made thus, and it is not always available.  Vegetarian rennet is made artificially and its supply is reliable. But other curdling agents may be used. Citric acid is supplied as part of some cheesemaking kits, and I once turned sour milk into cottage cheese by boiling it to 22 degrees and adding orange juice.

The blue is added to blue cheeses by mixing penicillium mould into the milk, and  then piercing it with stainless steel rods, which allow oxygen to circulate in the cheese. As members of the fungus kingdom moulds are air-breathers and so need oxygen to respire. Note that the mould has no taste, for it is the fungal derivatives in the cheese that provide the taste.

The hardness of cheese is derived from how it is stacked. If cheeses are stacked one atop the other during maturation [and the stacks upturned periodically] moisture is squeezed  out, rendering the cheese harder, and therefore more storable. Soft cheeses  store less well, so my cottage cheese had to be eaten promptly, which it was!

 

Types

1: The simplest is fresh cheese, and it is the most low tech. It is closely related to the cottage cheese that I made and described above. Simply sour the heated milk by using rennet, ladle  the curds into moulds, and consume within a week. To aid consumption blocks of this cheese are small. As it is not matured long enough to harden, it is a soft, often crumbly cheese. It goes well with biscuits, which we British call crackers, and also goes well in salads. I like it on toast. If you are taking it with wine, a light white wine is ideal.

2: Mould-ripened cheeses, such as camembert and brie, have the milk infected with Penicillium camemberti. A variety of organisms get into the mould, but the cheesemakers overwhelm the rest by flooding the mould with Penicillium. This enables them to get the desired effect, which is a rind that coats the cheese.  These cheeses go well with a light, fruity red wine.

3: Washed rind cheeses. These have a bacterial rind which is achieved by killing off the fungal moulds. This is done by washing them in brine, but many are then washed in one of a variety of alcoholic drinks. The result is a pinkish, sticky rind which gives the cheese its flavour. Cheeses of this type are smelly, as the microbes give off ammonia when ripening. The French  call the smell "the feet of God." One British example is Celtic Promise, which comes from Ceredigion in West Wales. Washed rind cheeses go well with a good Burgundy or a dark beer.

4:Blue Cheeses. I have already mentioned how they are made, but it is important to add that it is necessary for them to have some degree of softness about them so that the mould's penetration will not be impeded. There are two outstanding examples of blue cheese. One is Stilton, produced only in certain English creameries and known as a queen among cheeses. Another is the Irish cheese Cashel Blue, made in the lovely vale of Tipperary. Enjoy these with a good port, though I have had these cheeses with white wine and enjoyed them.

5: Semi-soft cheeses. This is a broad category  that contains instances of others in it. To make a semi-soft cheese heat the curd to release more whey, the residual liquid left over from cheese- making. Semi-soft is a good category for mixing fruit into the cheese, as hard cheese would squash the fruit too much. Wensleydale is a good example of a semi-soft  cheese. A  variety of wines go well with these cheeses.

6: The quintessential hard cheese is cheddar, but it is not too hard too be enjoyed. This kind of cheese stores well. It can be mixed with flavourings. I have one in the fridge flavoured with Irish whiskey. I have also eaten cheddar with cooked nettles, which lose their sting when boiled. The nettle leaves are gathered in Spring, diced, cooked and added to the curd. The cheese tasted very good.

 

Character of Cheeses

All the six kinds of cheeses mentioned above are generic types  that are not patented, but specific cheeses, such as Stilton, are trademarked and have their names and area of origin protected by international law. Thus Wensleydale can only be made in Wensleydale. Some cheeses do not have an accurate local description. Stilton, for example, is not made in the village of Stilton, as it is older than the law on trademarks, but is still trademarked by a  set of creameries. The extreme case is cheddar, which is a village near Cheddar Gorge in South West England, whose name has become the name of a type of moderately  hard cheese and a process of cheesemaking known as cheddaring, which involves milling and compacting a cheese to create a firm texture. Cornish Yarg was developed by a farmer from Cornwall whose name was Gray, which he reversed to make Yarg. This cheese is wrapped in nettle leaves to give it flavour.

Each cheese is made to a recipe. Whether it is made from cow's, buffalo's sheep or goat's milk matters for its identity, as does whether the milk is raw or pasteurised. Whether the cheese is made from animal or artificial rennet is a significant commercial issue, for vegetarians. If a cheese is marketed as oak-smoked then it must only be smoked in oakwood, though the species of oak matters not. Single and double Gloucester [pronounced Gloster] must be made with the milk from Gloucester cattle. Cheese lovers know what they want and accept nothing less.

Some brands fail. I remember buying one called Kerry Farm at the Manchester Irish Festival  some years  ago. It was far too hard and I never have seen it since. Similarly, Lymeswold, whose creation was much trumpeted in the 1980's, did not last long as few enjoyed it. The makers will have tried different recipes.

I love the following cheeses: Wensleydale, Stilton, Cashel Blue, Cheshire and Feta. In general, I love goat's milk cheese. I like  cheese with savoury ingredients such a shredded nettles. As for wines to drink with cheese I have a broad taste, though I rarely drink beer, except for real ale. For me a good white wine is hard to beat. Britain is a land of good cheeses. Enjoy.

Updated: 03/05/2021, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 10/05/2022

I do not eat non dairy alternatives. I love milk and all products made from it.

DerdriuMarriner on 10/04/2022

This comment begins like it's in an unrelated direction but it actually is related to your cheese expertise.

Non-dairy alternative drinks and yogurts count more with me these days than their dairy counterparts. For example, I drink almond, cashew, coconut milk, not moo-lk ;-D.

Would you happen to know of any non-dairy alternative cheeses that you find nutritious and tasty? I would rather continue my love for traditional dairy cheese but some -- not the ones you, Veronica and I have discussed below -- are not quite as appealing as they once were.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/22/2022

Thank you!

Nettles grow in clean, convenient places in the yard. Your recipe is eminently do-able because of the clear explanation.

Let me ask two more questions: Is there a particular kind of goat's cheese that you like or recommend? And what kind of salt -- sea? -- would you be using on the cheese?

frankbeswick on 03/22/2022

Making your own cheese with nettles is easy. Make a cottage cheese, which should take only a few days. Pick the new, young leaves from the top of the nettles. Drop them into boiling water for five minutes to destroy the sting. Strain off the water. Dry the nettles. Shred them, then sprinkle them into the still liquid cheese. Eat when ready. Don't eat old nettles, they have too much oxalic acid in them.

Nettles are rich in nutrients. You will need to add some salt to the cheese, but nettles themselves are quite salty.

frankbeswick on 03/22/2022

I like goat's cheese with nettle shredded and mixed into it,but Cornish yard has no shredded nettles.It ìs wrapped all round with nettle leaves, which flavour the rind.

Veronica on 03/21/2022

Corniche yarg is a popular nettle cheese

Veronica on 03/21/2022

Yes no problem. I have seen that quote too. But then, I live in Cheshire, so maybe i am rather subjective. 😀

DerdriuMarriner on 03/21/2022

I don't know anything about Sage Derby but I must say that I quoted Belton Farm because it just didn't sound right. It's very much appreciated that you both have stepped forward to dispel my confusion.

I like the word otiose!

And I'll look for goat's cheese with nettles. Sounds delicious and nutritious so thank you, Frank.

frankbeswick on 03/21/2022

Anyway,, Lancashire and Cheshire were once one county, so there is no reason to think that Cheshire has any greater pedigree than Lancashire at cheesemaking. A crumbly Lancashire much resembles a good Cheshire.

frankbeswick on 03/21/2022

The only green cheese that I eat is goat's cheese with nettles, so I cannot comment on other kinds.

I think that it is otiose of Belton Farm to claim that Sage Derby as England's oldest cheese, as Derbyshire and Cheshire are adjoining counties, so cheesemaking is likely to have occurred at the same time in both. Remember though, that Cheshire is the county round Chester, the city of the legions,. Roman soldiers used to get cheese as part of their rations, so cheese making in Cheshire probably goes back to the Romans at the very least. Veronica therefore has a case for saying that Cheshire is the oldest cheese, though the same argument could be used to support Gloucester, where there was also a legionary base.


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