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12 best British cheeses for 2019

The i logo The i 15/03/2019 Sophie Morris
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British cheese-making has undergone a striking revival in the past few decades and we now make many of the best cheeses in the world. 15 or 20 years ago a restaurant cheeseboard would most likely be made up of French cheeses, but today anyone can produce a selection of award-winning quality and innovation from British cheese alone.

The revival was driven as much by milk prices and the demise of the unpopular Milk Marketing Board as by a move away from the stranglehold supermarkets held most producers in. Dairy farmers began to diversify, new cheese makers with no heritage in the business decided to try their luck, and consumers became interested in artisan products.

“Each producer has their unique quality and character and each wheel, or round, or square of their cheese does too. So, you can imagine how difficult it is to highlight a general ‘best of’,” explains Jennifer Kast of Neal’s Yard Dairy, a retailer at the forefront of championing and supporting the British farmhouse cheese industry, along with Paxton & Whitfield, La Fromagerie, and celebrations such as the British Cheese Awards, which received 1000 entries in 2018, even though 55 per cent of all the cheese we eat is Cheddar!

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We might assume our best classic cheeses have been made for centuries. In fact, after the 1950s, British farmhouse cheese production almost disappeared, and although the methods are historic, the fine Cheddars, Cheshires, Lancashires, Yargs, Poachers and the rest are mostly recent iterations of the traditional product.

Many of the popular soft cheeses such as Baron Bigod brie and Cerney goat’s cheese follow the French method, but there are many others developing their own textures and flavours within this flourishing field.

Here’s our pick of the best Britain has to offer.

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Appleby’s Cheshire

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£7 for 230g, Neal’s Yard Dairy Best for: Feeding a family

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Shropshire

“I think our family eats a kilo a week!” says Jennifer Kast, who holds the enviable position of cheese education coordinator at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

“Over the past few months the flavours in this Cheshire have blossomed: minerally and with a bright citric tang. These are enhanced by a texture that is initially a touch dry to the tongue but upon chewing reveals a silken succulence. It’s as comfortable sitting in a large block in the middle of the table for everyone to take a chunk from, as it is on a delicate cheeseboard.”

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The Appleby family has been making Cheshire since 1952 and the cheese has a mellow orange colour distinct from typical white Cheshire. This is the last raw-milk, clothbound Cheshire in England, and when the supermarkets asked the family to wax its cheese in the early 80s, they refused.

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Neal’s Yard sells Appleby’s after it’s matured for around four months.

White Lake Sheep Rustler

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£7.50 for 250g, The Cheese Society Best for: Nutty flavour

Key specs – Type: Semi-hard, sheep’s milk; Made in: Somerset

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Julius Longman, chairman of the British Cheese Awards, recommends the “Supreme Champion” from last year’s awards, Sheep Rustler, made by White Lake Cheese in Somerset near Glastonbury.

It’s a semi-hard cheese with a mellow and somewhat nutty flavour, and was crowned overall winner of the 2018 cheese awards after winning Best Modern Cheese in 2017.

Sheep Rustler is made from thermised ewes’ milk, which means the milk is unpasteurised but sanitised at a low temperature – it is no longer raw, but some of the bacteria has been killed and hopefully some of the good bacteria and enzymes retained.

White Lake’s Roger Longman and Peter Humphries use a local flock for sheep’s milk and a local Guernsey herd for cow’s, while Roger keeps his own goats for their goat’s cheeses. Suitable for vegetarians.

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Cerney

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£12 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield Best for: Smooth texture

Key specs – Type: Soft, goat’s milk; Made in: Gloucestershire

You’ll have heard of Cerney if you’re a fan of This Country, the BBC3 mockumentary about rural life, but this goat’s cheese, a past “Supreme Champion” of the British Cheese Awards, is a far more refined product of the area than Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe.

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This stylish black pyramid take three days to make and on the third day is sprinkled with oak ash and salt. Under it you’ll find a thick mousse-y cheese with a mild, citrusy flavour, unless you keep it for longer than a few weeks and its flavour will become richer.

It was developed in the early 1980s, after the style of the Loire’s Valencay cheeses, which are also shaped in pyramids and coated in ash. Lady Isabel Angus of Cerney House fell for these cheeses while on holiday and created her own once back home. Suitable for vegetarians.

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Wildes Londonshire

£6.50 for 200-220g, The Urban Cheese Maker Best for: Vegetarians

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: London

Londonshire, from Tottenham cheesemaker Wildes, is one of the fine results of Britain’s renewed interest in making really astounding cheeses. Former management consultant Philip Wilton, aka the “urban cheesemaker”, began producing cheese in 2012 and uses Jersey milk from one herd in Rye, East Sussex, and vegetarian rennet, so if you’re a vegetarian seeking out greats soft cheeses, this is the place to look.

If you can get hold of a piece of Londonshire – batch after batch sells out – you’ll find it a gooey delight with a bloomy, velvety rind and a mild to full flavour.

Wilton says he began making cheese “because it’s pure magic, a form of alchemy; you take a ubiquitous product like milk and then with a little sprinkling of magic and months later you have cheese; mild cheese, strong cheese, blue cheese, hard cheese, or soft – it’s a wow!”

Innes Brick

£10.10 for 170g, Neal’s Yard Dairy Best for: Delicate goatiness

Key specs – Type: Soft, goat’s milk; Made in: Staffordshire

“If I’m not careful, my children will eat the whole cheese before we get home from the shop,” says Kast. “This is a cheese that is equal parts texture and flavour – the slightly runny rind coupled to a mousse-y paste makes it a favourite of anyone naturally drawn to soft cheese. But its nutty sweetness endears it to those who typically favour the harder alpine style too. It also brings out the very best in goat’s milk – delicate, ever so slightly perfumed but with absolute earthy integrity.”

These cheeses are made by Joe Bennett in Staffordshire, who delivers them fresh to Neal’s Yard Dairy every week, at which point they are more like goat’s curd, but as they mature in climate-controlled maturation rooms, the rind grows and stabilises, and the flavour intensifies.

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Cropwell Bishop Stilton

£2.75 for 150g, Ocado Best for: Blue cheese tanginess

Key specs – Type: Blue, cow’s milk; Made in: Nottinghamshire

“Cropwell Bishop Stilton from Nottinghamshire is a truly exceptional example of one of England’s most famous cheeses, with a herby tang and rich creaminess,” says Ros Windsor, the managing director of Paxton & Whitfield, the UK’s oldest cheesemonger.

“This Stilton has been graded and chosen to meet the flavour and texture profiles specified by Paxton & Whitfield. Stilton in prime condition has a grey, wrinkly crust and the inside should be creamy yellow with an even spread of blue-green veins. The strength of the flavour should not be overpowering but have a pleasant, herby tang.”

Set of different cheeses Set of different cheeses

Double Gloucester

£8 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield Best for: Heritage product

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Gloucestershire

Double Gloucester is a veteran example of great British farmhouse cheese and has been around since at least the eighth century.

It’s a hard, full-fat cheese, made from the milk of Gloucester cattle, which were developed for dairy and cheese making because of the milk’s high protein content and small fat globules. Gloucester cattle is one of the rarest breeds in the UK though, and it nearly died out at one point.

Jonathan Crump makes this cheese at Standish Park Farm in Stonehouse with his fifty Old Gloucesters. The cheese is a light golden colour with a smooth texture and sharp nutty flavour, and goes well with apples and cider. Suitable for vegetarians.

Rollright

£11 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield Best for: Buttery richness

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: Oxfordshire

This soft, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Oxfordshire comes recommended by Tracey Colley, director of the Academy of Cheese, which offers certifications for people working in the industry.

It’s a gooey cheese with a velvety texture that’s similar to crème fraiche. It’s made by King Stone Dairy in Chipping Norton and named after local landmark the Rollright Stones, a collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age standing stones.

It’s described as a good beer cheese because malt will stand up to Rollright’s washed rind.

High angle view of friends having breakfast High angle view of friends having breakfast

Cropwell Bishop Beauvale

£7.25 for 250g, Paxton & Whitfield Best for: Being both soft and blue

Key specs – Type: Blue, cow’s milk; Made in: Nottinghamshire

“This is a relatively new cheese to the artisan British cheese fold,” explains Ros Windsor. “It was developed by Robin Skailes of Cropwell Bishop Creamery, our Stilton supplier. Part of the inspiration was to provide a handmade British substitute for all the soft blue cheeses that are imported from the continent."

“Over four years of development went into the making of the cheese until Robin was happy for it to be released for sale. Once made, the curds are hand-ladled into moulds that differ very much in shape to those used to make Stilton, imparting the cheese with a rich, creamy texture.”

“The flavour is full and predominantly savoury, with a delicious bit of spice. It has a firm texture when young and begins to break down as it ages, developing a runny centre.”

Hafod Cheddar

£10.20 for 288g, Neal’s Yard Dairy Best for: A complex take on cheddar

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Ceredigion, Wales

“For me the ‘best of British cheese’ is a wonderful movable feast,” says Kast. “Every day, I have the luxury of being able to taste from a tremendous selection of cheeses from Britain’s best producers.”

“The Hafod, to me, is like a comforting friend who nonetheless has the will to challenge you. It’s a smooth and softer (supple) cheddar to most. And is generally warmly flavoured with a strong herbal foundation.”

“Rather than being a straight line of flavour (or even an arch), it tends to be round and full, taking you in a many complementary directions at once. The finish is long, and very gratifying. You always want more.”

Hafod is made by Rob Howard in Ceredigion, Wales, and is available in raw or pasteurised milk versions.

Close up hand holding cutting board  with cheese, snack food on rustic table viewed from above © @istetiana Close up hand holding cutting board with cheese, snack food on rustic table viewed from above

Kirkham’s Lancashire

£4.49 for 200g, Waitrose & Partners Best for: Crumbly texture

Key specs – Type: Hard, cow’s milk; Made in: Lancashire

Hard-working, crowd-pleasing cheeses like Kirkham’s Lancashire make you wonder why they aren’t as popular as cheddar. Maybe because we don’t want everyone to find out for fear this tangy and buttery cow’s milk cheese will sell out.

Graham Kirkham makes his farmhouse Lancashire north of Preston with milk from his own Friesian herd, and it’s said the remarkable taste comes from the salt borne on the wind from the Irish Sea.

Available from most good cheesemongers including Waitrose, Paxton & Whitfield and Neal’s Yard Dairy, which ages some to get a mature cheese.

Fen Farm Dairy Baron Bigod

£23 for 2 x 250g, Fen Farm Dairy Best for: Gooey stinkiness

Key specs – Type: Soft, cow’s milk; Made in: Suffolk

Wonders like Baron Bigod are what happens when cheese gets political. It’s the UK’s only raw milk farmhouse brie and came about when fourth generation farmers Jonathan and Dulcie Crickmore, dismayed with the price of milk in this country, decided to turn to cheese. They went to the French Alps and brought their own herd of Montbeliarde cows back to Fen Farm in Suffolk.

Baron Bigod is the result, and it has all the characteristics you’d expect of a living, stinking French brie de meaux: it’s creamy, earthy and oozy, with a bloomy rind and a satisfying whiff of barnyard.

Late last year, they won the British Farming Award for Dairy Innovation. They are building a new cheese factory to meet demand and have ambitions to create a new cheese, too. Watch this space.

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