There are over 700 different specialty cheeses available in the UK, besting the 600 available in France. Seventy of the British varieties are blue cheeses.
Still, cheddar remains a firm favourite. Almost half the cheese sold in the UK is cheddar in some form, whether in blocks or in convenience formats such as grated or sliced. ”However, Cheddar remains the British public’s favourite, consisting of almost half of all cheese sales.” — Cheese sales in UK soared last year, figures show. Farming UK. 17 March 2021. Accessed January 2022 at https://www.farminguk.com/news/cheese-sales-in-uk-soared-last-year-figures-show_57809.html To meet the demand, some cheddar is imported, typically from Commonwealth countries such as Canada and New Zealand, or from Ireland. Some consumers complain that sometimes this cheese is labelled “packed in Britain”, which can be misleading.
The Scottish Highlands produce mostly soft cheeses.
As of 2021, the largest commercial cheese company in the UK is Arla, formed from a merger between Arla and “Milk Link.” Previously, it was “Milk Link” on its own.
British Cheese Week is the last week in September.
- 1 British Cheese History from WW1 to WW2
- 2 British Cheese Growth constrained by the Milk Marketing Board
- 3 Literature & Lore
- 4 Sources
Some British cheeses
- 5.1 Beenleigh Blue Cheese
- 5.2 Blue Wensleydale
- 5.3 Buffalo Blue Cheese
- 5.4 Buxton Blue Cheese
- 5.5 Byland Blue Cheese
- 5.6 Caerphilly Cheese
- 5.7 Canterbury Blue Cheese
- 5.8 Capricorn Goat’s Cheese
- 5.9 Cheddar Cheese
- 5.10 Cheshire Cheese
- 5.11 Colston Bassett Stilton Cheese
- 5.12 Cornish Blue Cheese
- 5.13 Cornish Yarg Cheese
- 5.14 Cotherstone Cheese
- 5.15 Cottage Cheese
- 5.16 Curd Cheese
- 5.17 Daylesford Cheddar Cheese
- 5.18 Devon Blue Cheese
- 5.19 Dorset Blue Vinney
- 5.20 Exmoor Blue Cheese
- 5.21 Farmhouse Cheese
- 5.22 Gloucester Cheese
- 5.23 Government Cheddar Cheese
- 5.24 Harbourne Blue Cheese
- 5.25 Katy’s White Lavender Cheese
- 5.26 Lancashire Cheese
- 5.27 Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese
- 5.28 Lord of The Hundreds Cheese
- 5.29 Lymeswold Cheese
- 5.30 Mrs Bells Blue Cheese
- 5.31 Oxford Blue Cheese
- 5.32 Oxford Isis Cheese
- 5.33 Pantysgawn Cheese
- 5.34 Red Dragon Cheese
- 5.35 Red Leicester Cheese
- 5.36 Shropshire Blue
- 5.37 Stilton
- 5.38 Stinking Bishop Cheese
- 5.39 The Crumblies
- 5.40 Truckle
- 5.41 Wensleydale Cheese
- 5.42 Wensleydale Cheese with Cranberries
- 5.43 White Cheddar
- 5.44 Windsor Red Cheese
- 5.45 Yeel Cheese
British Cheese History from WW1 to WW2
Before World War One (1914 – 1918), there were 3,500 independent British cheesemakers.
The British Milk Marketing Board was established in 1933; everyone in England and Wales producing milk or cheese was compelled to belong to it, and pay a levy to it. A similar board was established in Scotland in the same year. A Milk Marketing board was not formed in Northern Ireland until 1955. Still, many makers survived despite the economic depression at the time. In 1939, in the south-west of England alone, there were over 514 varieties of cheddar alone being made, not to mention all the other types of cheeses, or other areas of England.
The economic requirements of World War Two (1939 to 1945) decimated the number of cheesemakers. At the start of the war, by wartime law, anyone making cheese in Britain was compelled to make a single, uniform cheddar-style cheese called “Government Cheddar.” Rationing allowed everyone 2 oz (50 g) of it a week. By the end of the war in 1945, less than 100 independent British cheesemakers had survived. But they weren’t out of the woods yet: the law stayed in effect until 1954.
British Cheese Growth constrained by the Milk Marketing Board
In 1954, production of traditional cheeses such as Lancashire, Red Leicester, Stilton, and Wensleydale were revived in England. In Scotland, advertisements for Scotch Dunlop cheese tentatively appeared in a few newspapers. The British Milk Marketing Board was opposed to it; for instance, the Wensleydale revival only succeeded because the small cheesemaker called “Wensleydale Creamery” stubbornly saw them off.
In 1954, a magazine columnist wrote:
DISTINGUISHED chef, M. Jean Conil, has been singing the praises of Cheshire cheese, and has been making our mouths water with his descriptions of how to eat it, and in what company. But did he tell us whether he was writing of coloured or uncoloured, soft or mature, factory or farmhouse, spring or autumn products? I would have M. Conil know that there are more nuances of flavour and bouquet, texture and ‘meat’ about a good old Cheshire cheese than there are about many of the great vintage wines of his native land.
Where, oh where are the great cheeses of yesteryear? The blue Vinney, the double Gloucester, Caerphilly, Dunlops and Wensleydale? Here and there in the clubs and exclusive pubs and places there is an occasional Stilton, but the old Wiltshire crack about chalk and cheese seems to gain point as the lump fails to crumble in the mouth as once it did. Not so long ago, in fact right down to the outbreak of the last war, there nestled coyly in a side street of Bloomsbury a small shop where one could sample and buy cheeses of a hundred and twenty varieties. Cannot the old customers get together and form a Cheese Club? That would be a club worth joining – if we could get the old-style cheeses.
Before the war there were nearly 1,500 farmhouse cheese makers in this country. Now there are just over one hundred. Farmhouse cheese making died with the outbreak of war. There is just a chance that when the farmers once again take over the operation of the Milk Marketing Board some encouragement may be given to this ancient craft, which at present is quite uneconomic. A farmer nowadays can get four or five times as much money for his milk for liquid sale as he could if he or his womenfolk made cheese on the farm – and that without counting in the value of the highly-skilled labour.” — In Praise of Cheese: The Journal of a Critical Citizen. Truth Magazine: London, England. 15 January 1954. Page 81, col. 1.
But until the 1990s, largely only those cheeses plus cheddar were available, largely owing to restrictions imposed by the British Milk Marketing Board. If anyone wanted a better cheese during that period, they bought European cheeses.
A champion of reviving British cheese was Patrick Rance (died 22 August 1999, age 81.) He ran a shop in Streatley, near Henley-on-Thames, and out of personal interest sought out traditional, raw-milk cheese producers to supply his store. In 1973, he was commissioned by the British tourist board to write an article on British cheese. His research for the article inspired him to go further and write more on the topic. He published “The Great British Cheese Book” in 1982. He made it clear that he felt the enemies were the Milk Marketing Board, and large industrial cheese companies, in collusion with each other.
In 1982, the Milk Marketing Board, through its subsidiary Dairy Crest, attempted to quell growing consumer desire for another British cheese by creating itself a new industrial cheese called Lymeswold Cheese. They spared no expense, drawing on the latest business techniques in focus groups, market research and taste tests. But still, the cheese just refused to move off the shelves. They gave on up it in the early 1990s.
Finally, on 1 November 1994, the British Milk Marketing Board was abolished; this is when the British cheese explosion began. Milk producers were freed to create the products they wished with their own milk. There were no more failed Supply Management policies from a Milk Marketing Board to dictate what they could and could not do.
Literature & Lore
‘To taste an unpasteurised, cloth-bound cheddar made from the milk of cows whose diet is fresh grass, clover, buttercups and daisies, is to taste a piece of England.’ — Juliet Harbutt, in “The World Cheese Book”. 2009.
Apple, R.W. Jr. Keeping the Real British Cheeses Alive. New York Times. 14 November 1984.
Grimes, William. Patrick Rance, 81, British Cheese Crusader. New York Times. 30 August 1999.
Hutchison, Peter. Germany goes mad for British cheese. London: Daily Telegraph. 22 September 2010.
Miller, Keith. The British Cheese Conspiracy. London: Daily Telegraph. 22 October 2010.
Miller, Norman. It’s time to celebrate British cheese. London: The Times. 19 September 2009.
Mitch Potter. Cool Britannia rules the whey. Toronto, Canada: The Toronto Star. 9 October 2007. Page A3.
Wallop, Henry. British blue cheese conquers the French. London: Daily Telegraph. 18 December 2010.
Wilson, Bee. The Kitchen Thinker: British cheddar. London: Daily Telegraph. 29 September 2010.
Solid Performance by Milk Link. Dublin, Ireland: Food & Drink Business Magazine. 28 June 2010.
Some British cheeses
|↑1||”However, Cheddar remains the British public’s favourite, consisting of almost half of all cheese sales.” — Cheese sales in UK soared last year, figures show. Farming UK. 17 March 2021. Accessed January 2022 at https://www.farminguk.com/news/cheese-sales-in-uk-soared-last-year-figures-show_57809.html|
|↑2||A Milk Marketing board was not formed in Northern Ireland until 1955.|