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 03/13/2021

Just a slight amendment to my article. There is a market for mare's milk in Europe, and there is some European production, but it is more profitable to sell it as a luxury lifestyle product than to make cheese with it.

frankbeswick on 03/06/2021

Before Covid disrupted things we in Manchester had the Christmas markets, sometimes known as the German markets. Artisans sold their wares there. In fact, I was planning an article on them for 2020, but for Covid. I like to take a trip to the cheese stalls and the specialist pie makers. A Dutch cheesemaker comes every year, and English cheesemakers have regular stalls.

Veronica on 03/06/2021

yes i would like to do a Lanky cheese trail...nom nom...cheese tasting at every one ...!

frankbeswick on 03/06/2021

I knew that you liked red wine.

I had not heard of the cheese farm trail.

frankbeswick on 03/06/2021

All cheddar is made to a recipe, so American cheddar will be similar to other cheddars. If you like German cheese you may find that German smoked and Austrian smoked are very similar. Pepperjack is an original American cheese mixing [Mexican] Monterey cheese with peppers. I have not heard of it over in Britain, so infer that the American consumers eat it up.

Veronica on 03/06/2021

Wensleydale with cranberry is a huge favourite over here . I do not know the other tytpes that Derdriu mentions.
Frank I drink red and also sparkling white wine. No beer, cider, lager, spirits, aperitifs, sherry, liqueurs , just red wine and sparkling.
County Lancashire has a designated " cheese farm trail which is a walk around various cheese farms at work.

blackspanielgallery on 03/06/2021

I still enjoy cheese, with Swiss being my second favorite. I particularly enjoy the different taste it has at the holes. I recall the 50s as well, and we were not wealthy either. Our cheeses were cheddar, American (similar to cheddar), and Swiss. I find with all of these cheese if a piece is taken as a chunk from a block it is to have a different flavor than a slice of cheese, and since blocks are lower in price I developed a taste for them that persists today. My favorite is pepperjack.

One fun thing to do is sample cheeses. My wife bought several German cheeses from a booth at an Oktoberfest celebration. while we enjoyed them, buying more is difficult, first I would have to find a source locally.

frankbeswick on 03/05/2021

I got the photo from Pixabay, who did not say what cheese and wine they were, but the cheese looks like Shropshire Blue.

Derdriu, you mention some forms of Wensleydale that I have never known, so I think that they have been produced for export only. [Cranberry is known over here.]I don't know Murray's as a brand, so I think that they must be an American brand.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/05/2021

frankbeswick, Thank you for the practicalities and products.
What are the cheese and the wine that goes with it in the image to the left of your title?
You've mentioned Wensleydale in a previous article on cheeses. Since I read that article (and I've read all of yours now ;-D), I noticed that the cheese section of the grocery store has not only apricot amarretto Wensleydale and cranberry Wensleydale cheeses but also now Wensleydale cheese with honey and lemon curd. They all show up under the Murray's label. Would they be cheeses your side of the pond likes or would they just be for export?

frankbeswick on 03/05/2021

I have never eaten Derbyshire cheeses, but Derbyshire is more local to you than it is to me!

I do like creamy Lancashire. I have never heard of Partick Fell before. As for wine and cheese, am I guessing rightly when I say that you like your wine red?


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