April 03, 2006
Cheshire Cheese
Posted by Gordon Smith

Christine reminded me the other day that we haven't had a cheese post in awhile, so I stopped at Whole Foods on the way to work today. Among other things, Whole Foods was featuring Cheshire cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy. This is a crumbly, tangy cheese produced by Appleby's Farm. The name of the cheese dervies from the county of Cheshire in England. It's flavor is similar to a sharp cheddar, but Cheshire is typically aged only six weeks to six months.

According to the Appleby's website, "Cheshire is considered to be the oldest British cheese, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) and probably dates back even further to Roman times." Some people are taken by the saltiness of the cheese. Appleby's attributes the saltiness to the Cheshire land, but assures us that they have happy cows:

Our herd of cows graze the salty summer pastures at the edge of the Cheshire Plain. In the winter they are housed indoors on straw beds. Our cows are milked every day at 5am and 3pm using a floating rotary parlour. The modern technology we use helps to ensure our milk is of the highest quality and our cows are happy and relaxed.

In the U.S., the most distinctive feature of the cheese is its crumbly texture, which gives it the appearance of a much older cheese. In the U.K., however, the most distinctive feature is its color. Though Cheshire comes in three varieties -- white, red (actually, we Americans would call this "orange," the result of annatto dye), and bue-veined (also called Shropshire cheese) -- the orange version is the one usually associated with the name Cheshire. Teddington Cheesemongers offers this anecdote about the orange color:

Although Cheshire is naturally a light golden colour, it is more often dyed to a rich orange using annatto. Legend has it that because its reputation was so good, some Welsh farmers labelled their own cheese as Cheshire and sold it to coach travellers on the Hollyhead to London route. The Londoners were unhappy when they tasted the inferior cheese back at home and thus the name of Cheshire cheese began to fall into disrepute. The Welsh farmers were told to dye their cheese in order to distinguish it from real Cheshire. However, the new coloured cheese quickly became fashionable and the Cheshire makers soon found themselves having to follow suit. Thus, red Cheshire was born.

Of course, the orange color is most distinctive in a cheese display without the orange cheddars that tend to dominate American groceries.

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