The U.S. is fortunate enough to have access to a wealth of cheeses, many of which are made on U.S. soil, as the U.S. produces some of the greatest artisanal cheeses from within. A large variety of cheeses from around the world are imported into America, including a good selection of British cheeses that have travelled across the pond.
Britain has given the world some of its most renowned cheeses, and as Bronwen Percival writes in the Oxford Companion to Cheese, these are cheeses that have evolved dramatically over their long history and continue to do so. The classic British cheeses may all look different in their styles, but they share the basic elements, namely curd drainage and acidification, which give them their characteristic high acidity and crumbly textures. The classics like British territorial cheeses and Stilton follow this path, yet there are several newer recipes and lesser-known styles that are also produced in Britain.
U.S. import laws for cheese are strict, meaning that there are regulations as to what can come over.
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Current United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations state that cheese can be made from unpasteurized (raw) milk, so long as the cheese has undergone an aging process no less than 60 days at a temperature no less than 35 degrees F. This applies to cheeses made domestically as well as those that have been imported.
Certain cheese styles are excluded from this rule, including fresh and soft-ripened cheeses, which must be made from pasteurized milk no matter what extent they are intended to age.
When you think of your quintessential, British cheese you immediately go to Cheddar. There are a wide variety of types and styles of British Cheddar, many of which are available in the U.S. due to their longer maturation period.
I must stress that it is traditionally-made British Cheddar and West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO that are different than large-scale produced Cheddar made in the U.S. Traditional Cheddars follow a longer production method, giving them their flavor profile and complexity as well as being made in clothbound wheels as opposed to block Cheddars.
The main process that distinguishes them from others is the act of ‘cheddaring’; the forming of curd bricks, stacking, unstacking and restacking them to expel whey. This allows for their unique texture, acidity and flavor profile.
Two types are widely available in the U.S.—Montgomery’s Cheddar and Quicke’s Cheddar—both of which have unique flavor profiles.
Montgomery’s Cheddar is unpasteurized Cheddar made on Jamie Montgomery’s Manor Farm in Somerset since 1911. It is a recipe that has kept consistent and close to its roots since the beginning, with only three head cheesemakers there in the last 50 years. The cheese is still made how it used to be, with adaptations and intervention being as minimal as possible to keep to its tradition and style. Flavors are rich, brothy and have a characteristic earthy, cave-like finish and a drier texture. This makes it incredibly moreish and perfect to eat alone, paired with high acidity chutneys and, as Montgomery himself enjoys, with a cider in hand.
Quicke’s Cheddar is made on Home Farm in Devon, England and run by Mary Quicke MBE, the 14th generation of the Quicke family who has been running the business for over 30 years. She is a leading authority on traditional cheese production methods, owing to her passion and knowledge of dairy farming and cheesemaking alike. They produce around 250 tons annually. Quicke’s Cheddar is made using milk from a grass-fed herd with incredible variety.
The herd is made up of seven different breeds, including Montbeliarde, Kiwi Holstein and Scandinavian Red, all of which are chosen for their specific qualities to create the ultimate ‘Quicke’s cow’.
The Cheddar comes to life in several different age profiles with the Mature, Vintage and on occasion the Extra Mature coming out to the U.S. Its texture is a lot more buttery and less friable than the Montgomery’s Cheddar and has rich, grassy notes with a caramel sweetness to finish.
From Scotland, Isle of Mull Cheddar is great for those wanting a powerful, sharp Cheddar. The cows are fed draff, a by-product from whisky production, and sometimes you get a boozy, whisky element coming through. A Cheddar called Hafod is one of the most exciting cheeses at the moment from Britain. It is a Welsh, Organic Cheddar made in Bwlchwernen Fawr near Lampeter. Its flavor profile is smoother and less acidic than many other traditional, clothbound Cheddars.
The second go-to cheese when discussing British Cheese is Stilton.
Stilton is one of the most famous Blue cheeses in the world, yet it is made in such a small area; its PDO states that it can only be made in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire in England. Colston Bassett Stilton is widely available in the U.S., as it is both pasteurized and aged for a minimum of nine weeks. Its flavor profile is like no other. Its texture is buttery (even more so with the Neals Yard Dairy recipe using traditional rennet as opposed to vegetarian) and it has flavors of fruit, cereal and cream with a gentle, warming Blue finish.
An unpasteurized Stilton recipe that is slightly lesser known is called Stichelton, a cheese that has been made by Joe Schneider and his team in Welbeck, Nottinghamshire since 2006. It is essentially Stilton how Stilton used to be made pre PDO status. The raw milk and single herd allow for its complexity; however a lot of skill, passion and hard work are also necessary in making the cheese taste as good as it does.
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Lesser Known Delights
Territorial cheeses, such as Kirkham’s Lancashire, a favorite amongst quite a few cheesemongers and customers alike, are available throughout the U.S. This cheese is delicious as is, but a secret is to try it paired with sweet desserts, such as English Eccles cakes and apple pie.
There are many other British cheeses, some newer and on a smaller scale such as Rollright, a Reblochon/Vacherin style made by David Jowett at King Stone Dairy in Oxfordshire. Its texture is unctuous and the flavor is reminiscent of peanuts and meat. It’s perfect for those who want a soft cheese with some funk and to satisfy any post skiing washed rind cravings.
Soft UK cheeses are a little less plentiful in the U.S. due to the restrictions on aging, however two types that are permitted are Tunworth and Stinking Bishop. Tunworth is a bloomy rind made in a Camembert style in Hampshire, England. Despite its pasteurization, its flavor is phenomenal and, when blind tasted, it easily passes as a French bloomy rind with its prominent brassica and truffle flavors at the forefront. Stinking Bishop is less widely available, but worth trying if you find it. It is a washed rind cheese that has been washed in perry, an English pear cider. The name itself, in fact, comes from a variety of local pear used in the perry. It is very aptly named, as the aromas are pungent and intense.
As well as the classics, Britain makes a good number of newer cheeses. White Lake Cheese Co. opened their doors in 2005.
Based in Somerset, England, they produce two cheeses called Rachel and Pave Cobble. Rachel is a firm, goat’s milk cheese that won Best Goat Cheese in the World at both the 2017 and 2018 World Cheese Awards. Pave Cobble is a lactic style ewes milk cheese that is thermized (sanitized using low heat), allowing for its availability in the U.S.
It is a rarer style for an imported cheese, with similarities to French Loire Valley AOC goat cheeses, such as Valencay AOC. It won the prestigious award of British Cheese Awards Supreme Champion in 2017, making it a must try.
Britain makes so many styles these days that you can produce an eclectic cheeseboard from British cheeses alone.
If you desire a little more color and modern experimentation, blended cheeses are widely available. These contain added flavors, fruits or alcohol. Wensleydale Creamery makes flavored cheeses, the most popular of which being Wensleydale with Cranberries. It is sweet, colorful and simple.
Cotswold from Long Clawson Cheesemakers is a blend of Double Gloucester and Chives, and Huntsman, also from Long Clawson, is a cheese made up of layers of Double Gloucester and Stilton. Alcohol- enhanced cheeses, including Cahill Irish Porter Cheese and Guinness Cheese from the British Isles, also are available. A secret with Cotswold is to melt it into mashed potatoes. Try it. You won’t regret it.
FINDING UK CHEESES
Below are a selection of cheese shops, delicatessens and chains that sell British cheese. Some change their ranges frequently, so it is always worth checking in with each one to see if they have a particular cheese in stock that you’re seeking.
This list is by no means finite, so ask your local cheesemonger which British cheeses they have in at any time and give them a try.
• Zingerman’s Deli, Ann Arbor, MI, www.zingermansdeli.com