Bright and shiny stars on the British cheese sky

One of the highlights of my trip to England with Cheese Journeys was an evening we shared with no less than England’s rockstar cheesemakers when it comes to artisan cheeses. Among them, so much cheese knowledge, experience and storytelling was accumulated. They each shared their own unique story, which together tell the story of English cheese traditions and renaissance.

Here you will find some examples of the cheesemakers’ own stories. (All photos of the cheesemakers are taken by talented Winter Caplanson, while the cheese photos are my own).

Ticklemore – a delicate goat cheese

Greg Parsons owns Sharpham Dairy, which makes cheeses from cow, sheep and goat milk. The dairy is located in Devon.

On the cheese night, Greg brought Ticklemore, a fine semi-solid goat cheese made from pasteurized milk from three local farms and with a thin and soft layer of white mold. With flavor notes of citrus and hay, it is a fine and mild goat cheese.

Baron Bigod – UK’s answer to Brie de Meaux

Jonny Crickmore is third generation on Fen Farm, a family farm he runs with his wife, Dulcie.

Raw milk is close to their hearts, and when they went into cheese production in 2012, it was to make their own version of the French Brie de Meaux. In close collaboration with Neils Yard Dairy and a French cheese consultant, they replaced their Holstein-Frisian dairy cows with French Montbelliard cows, which Jonny hand-picked out of small herds in the Jura Mountains. Much is done by hand, for example are cheese curds hand ladled into forms.

Baron Bigod is a wild and creamy experience with a taste of butter, mushrooms and hay, and with a touch of barn in the beautiful way.

Tunworth – this is how camembert tastes in England

Stacey Hedges is originally from Australia. At the age of 40, she found herself in a midlife crisis. With three children in the house and goats in the garden, she found happiness in making cheese.

She kept making cheese, and with Neils Yard Dairy having her back, she replaced the kitchen table with a small dairy. This was the beginning of the Hampshire Cheese Company. Today, she and her partner buy cow’s milk from a local farmer, with whom they work closely. The cows are a mixture of montbeliarde, red Swedish dairy cow and holstein-friesian.

Tunworth is an English handmade version of the French camembert. The milk is pasteurized, but not skimmed as it’s the case with a French camembert. The taste is rich and creamy, buttery with notes of hay and meat / umami.

Each cloth bound Cheshire encapsulates a moment in time – the soil, the traditional grass pastures, the gentle cows, the weather, the season.

Appleby’s Dairy

Caerphilly – as Chris Duckett made it

Originally, caerphilly is a Welsh cheese which the miners took with them in the lunch pack down in the dark. Somerset producers adopted the cheese in the late 1800s, when demand exceeded supply and it became a faster way to generate liquidity than long-aged cheddar cheeses.

In 1950, there was only one farmhouse producer left: Chris Duckett. He made raw milk caerphilly with natural rind. When he became ill in the late 1990s, Westcombe Dairy took over his production including the 20-year-old brine with all its unique microbiological flora. Even the cheese notes of Chris Duckett’s mother came to Westcombe where they since have worked on taking the cheese even further back to what it originally was.

Westcombe Dairy has been making cheese since 1879. It is an innovative dairy run by father and son. Primarily they produce traditional farmhouse cheddar.

Duckett’s Caerphilly has a fresh, clean and acidic taste with citrus, umami and mushrooms. Notice the color difference between the cheese just beneath the rind and in the middle – it also varies in taste.

Applesby’s Cheshire – last farmhouse producer of cheshire

Since 1952, the Appleby family has been producing cheshire on their family farm, which today is run by third generation: Paul and his wife Sarah and their five children. Paul’s grandmother came from a family where women made cheese, and she brought that skill into her marriage. The couple established a small dairy in the stable. In this same place and with grandma’s equipment (and with the same passion and stubborness as she had), England’s last farmhouse cheshire is still very much alive. (Once cheshire was a cheese used to feed the whole nation.)

Appleby’s chesire is clothbound and made from unpasteurized milk from their own cows. The nice, bright orange cheese is a bit acidic and has a slightly crumbly texture. It has a lot of minerality and a notes of grass and sweet cow breath.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester – the resurrection of an extinct cheese

Jo and David Clark run their family farm Sparkenhoe Farm with dairy cows, which they once inherited from the family. In 2005, they went into cheese as there was not much economy in selling milk. The couple considered for a long time what type of cheese they should start with, and it was a friend at the pub who brought Red Leicester into their attention. Originally, it was a regional cheese which stilton producers would make from surplus milk. But after World War II, the cheese disappeared in its traditional raw milk version, and was only found in the industrial version with pasteurized milk. Jo and David brought the cheese back in collaboration with Neils Yard Dairy.

The milk from the 150 dairy cows is pumped directly from the barn to the dairy. They produce almost all the feed for the cows at the farm or get it from a brother’s nearby farm. The cheese is clothbound and greased with lard for protection during maturation.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester is slightly flaky, tastes of butter, nuts, forest floor and has a touch of citrus. A nice, decorative cheese that gets its color from the natural dye annatto.

Berkswell – a UFO-like sheep’s milk cheese

At Ram Hall, the Fletcher family has been farming since 1881. Today, the farm is run by Stephen (5th generation) along with his father Peter and son George. In 1989, the first sheep’s milk cheeses were made from the milk of 40 newly acquired sheep. Stephen’s mother had been on a cheese course, and here she learned to drain the curd in a kitchen sieve. They still do this, and since the cheese is only pressed by its own weight, it takes its form from the sieve, and therefore has a shape of a UFO. The sheep milk’s cheese was very well received and in 1995, the family sold the last cows in order to focus on sheep.

Today they milk 750 sheep, and all fodder is grown on the farm’s fields. The cheeses are hand made. For instance, the cheese curd is cut by hand, and is thereafter stirred for 40 minutes – still by hand!

Berkswell has a sweet sheep’s milk taste that also tastes a bit of herbs. Although the young cheese is actually quite tender, it bites a bit. When the cheese is aged, it becomes firmer and has a more rebellious taste that can really kick off. Beautiful multicolored dots form over time on the surface. The cheese can also be grated over food.

Montgomery Cheddar – genuine farmhouse cheddar

In 1911, Jamie Montgomery’s grandfather bought the North Cadbury Court country house with its surrounding fields. He made cheddar, as one did in the flat and lush Somerset. When all the other producers made large blocks, he stubbornly stuck to the old traditions of clothbound rawmilk cheddar. Jamie moved with his family to North Cadbury Court in 1963, and is today third generation of Montgomery Cheddar. The dairy is now known as one of the top producers of farmhouse cheddar.

We tasted cheddar that had been aged for one and two years. A deep taste of umami, soil and broth hides in these beautiful and elegant cheeses that are also creamy (one year) and have soft crystals (two years).

Stichelton – this is how stilton was born

Joe Schneider is actually from New York, but he has replaced the Big Apple with the country life in Nottinghamshire. Together with the founder of Neils Yard Dairy, Randolph Hodgson, he set out to revive a cheese that had been missing for 18 years, namely the raw milk version of stilton. And pretty much everything is as it was before: The area is the same, the unpasteurized milk comes from the farm’s own cows, the cultures are the same as the last stilton producer used before switching to pasteurized milk in 1989. And cheese curds are hand ladled into their molds.

The result is an interesting blue cheese with a slightly orange rind covering the light yellow cheese with its blue veins. Right under the rind, the cheese is completely creamy. It has a complex slightly acidic taste which varies throughout the year.

The cheese was not allowed to be called stilton, as it does not live up to the PDO requirements of stilton today – here the milk must be pasteurized. Instead, the cheese is called Stichelton, which is the old name for the village of Stilton.

A cheese painting course was part of the Cheese Journeys programme. Do you recognize the cheese I painted? It’s Appleby’s Cheshire!

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