Cheshire cheese was once the most popular cheese in Britain but has seen its popularity plummet in recent years to the extent that it has become increasingly hard to find. It lost its place as the nation’s favourite to Cheddar long ago but that doesn’t mean it can’t find a place on a modern British menu. Personally, I think this cheese is long overdue for a comeback, with qualities that rival goat’s cheese and feta, it has all the characteristics that should appeal to modern British foodie.
Cheshire Cheese is a crumbly white cheese made from cows’ milk and sometimes coloured with annatto. It is one of Britain’s oldest cheeses – being documented as early as 1580 – and originates from the county of Cheshire as well the neighbouring counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire in Wales, and Shropshire and Staffordshire in England. It became established as the nation’s most popular cheese in the Georgian and Victorian periods and there are still pubs right across the country named after this ancient cheese. It evens features in Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop with Mr. Chuckster exclaiming “I’d steal a Cheshire cheese, tie it round my neck, and drown myself” although I’m not sure if that’s being complimentary or not. (For a rather poetic account of how the cheese is made read Harriet Martineau’s description of her visit to Widow S’s cheese-farm in Flintshire). Today, it can still be found in some supermarkets, usually made by the excellent Belton Farm in Shropshire but is generally neglected and despite its history has no legal geographical protection.
What makes it so relevant now is that many qualities of the Cheshire cheese are found in current favourites such as feta and goats’ cheese. White cheeses like these have become increasingly popular of late and the Cheshire cheese can definitely sit amongst them with its creamy taste and mild but noticeable tanginess. I’m quite convinced that if Cheshire cheese happened to originate somewhere Mediterranean and had an exciting Greek or Italian name I’m sure the British public would be all over it. Sometimes Cheshire cheese is coloured with annatto but the white version is definitely the way forward especially considering this trend for white cheeses and it’s more true to the traditional, historic version of this cheese as well.
Furthermore, it can easily be adapted to suit currently trending menu choices. I have many times used Cheshire cheese as a substitute for beyaz peynir (white cheese) in Turkish recipes or used it to stuff a burek, melt on a köfte or crumble over a pasta. But it doesn’t only suit Mediterranean cuisines, I even used it when I made my Circassian velibah (which you can read about here) and it can just as easily find a place in modern British cuisine as well. So considering the Cheshire cheese’s diversity and heritage I think it’s only right the British public resurrect their relationship with it.