21 British cheeses you HAVE to try
- Credit: Archant
Our food and drink editor and cheese sellers from across East Anglia select their top picks for your cheese board.
As the spring lockdown loomed earlier this year there was a rallying cry from the British cheese industry - “Help us”.
A campaign spearheaded by Jamie Oliver ensued, giving cheesemakers a much-needed boost at a time when the restaurants they so heavily relied on were shut with little notice.
But still the ripples of lockdown are being felt – especially in the world of Stilton. The temporary halt of production in the summer, just before the peak Christmas making season, has hit producers hard. Colston Bassett and Stichelton, for example, are reportedly 12,000 cheeses down (a huge hit when you consider they only produce on average 54,000 rounds per year).
How can you help?
Continue to buy from and support British dairies. Order direct from the maker, or seek out your local independent deli or cheesemonger. There is a whole world of interesting fromages to discover. And for every continental slice, you’ll inevitably find a UK-made counterpart that’s just as good (if not better).
Here are just some of the regional cheeses, many you might not have heard of, I think you should put on your cheeseboard list in the run up to Christmas...and beyond.
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Pair with: Farmhouse cider, a sweet red dessert wine such as Elysium, Riesling
This spicy, buttery, almost meaty blue cheese is made by Ticklemore using milk from small co-operatives – all based within 10 miles of the dairy in Totnes, Devon.
A silver winner in the Artisan Cheese Awards, Devon Blue has similar characteristics to a Gorgonzola Piccante or Forme D’Ambert, with all its salty blue brashness tempered by a creamy, almost crumbly rind.
Delicious drizzled with honey, or served with a date, pear or apple chutney. It holds its taste well so is fabulous used in savoury baking.
Leagram Organic Lancashire Volcano (also known as Bob’s Knob)
Pair with: Cider or perry
If you go by the original name (in brackets) you might get a few eyebrow raises – it’s certainly a talking point at dinner parties. This wax-sealed, so-called volcano of Lancashire cheese from Preston is aged for two years, taking on an explosively powerful tang. This is burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth stuff. A little certainly goes a long way, and it’s one to put on your list if you favour strong vintage cheddars. It begs to go with slices of fresh apple, and makes incredible mac and cheese or savoury scones.
Pair with: An oaky Syrah, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon
This is hands-down one of my favourite smoked cheeses. Many of the types you find in supermarkets are artificially flavoured, but this is the real deal, cold smoked for 12 hours until deeply burnished, the colour of an autumn conker. The mouth-watering scent and taste of oak smoke resonates in every bite. A Silver winner at the International Cheese Awards, this makes a superior toastie with a touch of beer-based chutney.
Pair with: Champagne and other dry sparkling wine, Chablis, Albarino, white Port
A delectable, unctuous, melting-centred, bloomy semi-soft cheese which, alongside Suffolk’s fabulous Baron Bigod, is leading the way for British-made Camembert-style fromages.
This one, made near Basingstoke, reminds me of Coulommiers (crafted just outside Paris). Rip through the wrinkled skin and fudgy edges to an oozing centre with deeply savoury vegetal notes. It’s twice been named Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards.
Serve at room temperature or warm in the oven studded with garlic, rosemary and a dash of truffle oil.
Pair with: Sangiovese, Barolo, Pinot Gris, Soave
A wonderful firm, slightly springy cheese made by Catherine Temple at Copys Green Farm in Wighton, north Norfolk.
Inspired by the cheeses of the Alps and crafted with milk from Brown Swiss cows, Wells Alpine takes around six months to mature, and has a noteably sweet, nutty taste erring towards a young French Beaufort.
Brilliant on a cheeseboard but equally excellent as a melting cheese.
Pair with: A natural beer such as Duchesse du Bourgogne, calvados, white wines from the Alsace
I remember once a waiter in a fancy restaurant whispering the name of this cheese from the board to me for fear of causing upset. Isis is actually an alternative name for the part of the Thames running through Oxfordshire.
And this pungent, Epoisses-style washed rind cheese is not to be missed. Sticky and seductively oozy, the honey mead-washed delight needs to be left at room temperature for an hour or two so it can give over its full array of complex flavours.
Pair with: A light single malt whisky
A relatively new cheese made in Perthshire at a former WW2 prisoner of war camp! The World Cheese Awards Gold winner is matured for four weeks and washed in a brine brimming with single malt Glenturret whisky every other day. The result is a striking orange rind and sweet, semi-soft paste with a truly distinctive but delicate taste.
Sharpham Rustic with Chives and Garlic
Pair with: Wines from the Sharpham estate, Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc
If you like Cornish Garlic Yarg you’ll get a kick out of this curvaceous cheese, which gives over just a whisper of allium. First made at the Ticklemore Dairy, the Devon staple is crumbly at its edges, leading to a firmer centre with a fresh, mellow, lactic and slightly citrussy twang. I love the story behind this cheese – that they stir it with chives and garlic to reflect the cows’ grazing of wild garlic in spring.
Pair with: Champagne, Alsatian Pinot Noir, White Burgundy
From the makers of Yarg, Lynher Dairies, comes this World Cheese Awards Supreme Champion. Kern roughly translates as ‘round’ in Cornish, and this round packs a proper punch. It’s made like Yarg, coated in a black rind, and matured for 14 to 16 months, during which time it takes on the texture of a gouda, being firm and a little flaky, with an intense, nutty, caramelly flavour. It could also be likened to a mature Comte.
Pair with: Alsatian whites, Cabernet Sauvignon
The Montgomery name is most frequently associated with damn fine Cheddar, but did you know the dairy farmers of Cadbury are responsible for Ogleshield too?
Known as the West Country’s answer to Raclette, Ogleshield has an unmistakeable taste, largely down to the rich milk produced by the Montgomery herd of Jersey Cows. Every few days the cheese is brined, a process which gives the semi-soft finished product its bloomy golden rind and unique flavour.
With its supple texture, Ogleshield is stunning in any recipe where melting is required.
Pair with: Portuguese Dao, Tokaji, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, a fruity stout
A decree in the 90s set out that all Stilton must be made from pasteurised milk. In a bid to get around this rule, producing luscious blue cheese from unpasteurised milk, in 2006 Joe Schneider set out his stall at Collingthwaite Farm on the Wellbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire- and Stichelton was born.
Made with milk from cows grazing just a short distance from the dairy, the cheese is in a very exclusive club, being one of just a few unpasteurised blues in the UK.
Stichelton is crafted slowly, using hand-ladling to drain the curd, and is pierced at about 10 to 12 weeks before again, being allowed to age at a more leisurely pace. The result is a modern take on a British classic, with a light, creamy texture and definitive ribbons of blue.
Pair with: Gamay, White Burgundy, Gruner Veltliner
Mellow, buttery and gorgeous – three adjectives that amply describe this Supreme Champion in the Artisan Cheese Awards.
It’s relatively new to the market, but has caused ripples in the cheese world for its soft, glossy texture and milky, woody taste with a touch of nuttiness.
Rollright is made in Gloucestershire in a similar way to French washed-rind cheeses and has been likened to a Reblochon, with pine notes sparking from the spruce band that holds it together. Indulgent and delicious.
East Anglian cheesemongers’ favourite cheeses
Julie Towells, Ferguson’s Deli, Hadleigh
I like and sell a lot of Lincolnshire Poacher. It’s a natural rinded Cheddar which has qualities of Gruyere. Aged from 12 to 24 months it has a fruity, nutty and sweet flavour that is slightly more savoury in autumn and winter. It is also available in vintage, smoked and a red that is vegetarian.
Clare Jackon, Slate, Aldeburgh and Southwold
On the local front, my favourite cheeses are definitely those made with Fen Farm milk - so Baron and also Julie’s St Jude. I’m also loving the new Skyr, particularly the rhubarb and vanilla flavour. Looking further afield, Burt’s Blue from Cheshire is tasting really good at the moment - do you know it? It’s simply delicious. A medium strength blue, intensely creamy with subtle tangy notes. It’s wonderful on an oatcake with a slice of crunch apple, or baked in a fig.
Charlie Hodson, Hodson & Co Cheese Room, Aylsham
I have a feeling there might just be a new star this Christmas - St Helena from the amazing Julie Cheney of St Jude Cheese and Blake Bowden in collaboration at Fen Farm, Bungay. It’s made with raw milk, is semi-hard and has a washed rind that on cutting through leaves this most beautiful of colour. Add to this Christmas Chutney From The Tea Lady (it tastes just like the most scrumptious of Christmas cakes). This is aheese that simply makes the heart sing.
Rebecca Mayhew, Old Hall Farm, Woodton
One of our favourite cheeses at our farm shop/deli is Fleet Valley Blue, by emerging cheesemakers “The Ethical Dairy”, based up in Scotland. Whilst we have a fabulous selection of Norfolk and Suffolk cheeses, it is nice to be able to offer something different and new to our customers - as far as we are aware, we are the only deli in East Anglia stocking cheese from this progressive organic business which is, like us, a cow with calf dairy, allowing the calves to stay with their mothers.
Fleet Valley Blue is a rich, ripened, semi-hard blue cheese infused with depth and character. It has a buttery, mellow flavour with steely blue veins and a note of sweetness and earthy tones on the nose.
Mark Kacary, The Norfolk Deli, Hunstanton
It would be easy to wav lyrical about our local East Anglian cheeses, for example what can be said which hadn’t been already said about Baron Bigod or St Jude and St Cera? They are world class cheeses and I’m sure would be on many people’s list of wonderful cheeses, which is why we thought we’d talk about something different. We believe that for every great French cheese we can come up with a British alternative which is as good if not better than its original. Having said that, our favourites include Cornish Gouda which comes in two variations. Personally I would say it’s right up there with an Old Amsterdam if you want a flavourful cheese. Young Buck is a wonderful raw milk blue cheese from Northern Ireland. A great alternative to a blue Stilton. Lastly Witheridge is made in Oxfordshire and is matured in hay. Texture-wise it’s firm and a little like a Suffolk Gold in texture, but with grassy notes from the hay maturation. It’s something very different to add to a cheeseboard