Cheshire cheese is made from cow’s milk, either pasteurized or raw milk.
Cheshire has a semi-firm, crumbly texture, and a mildly-salty flavour that sharpens with age and is a bit more complex than cheddar.
A whole cheese drum typically weighs about 30 kg (70 pounds).
The region for making the cheese roughly centres on Chester but extends into Lancashire, Northern Shropshire and Staffordshire. Some say that the salty-taste comes from the salt springs and deposits under this area, the Cheshire Plain, but no doubt the salt added just before the cheese is put into moulds helps a bit as well.
Producers are now also making specialty Cheshire cheeses for the Christmas holidays, flavoured with apricot, ginger, date & walnut, etc.
There is a Cheshire Cheese Federation to help promote the cheese.
Milk from the evening milking of the cows is let stand out overnight. The next day, milk from that morning’s milking is added, along with starter. It is allowed to coagulate into curds and whey, and then it is heated for about ¾ hour, cooking the curds a bit in the whey. The whey is drained off, the curds are cut, salted and put into moulds. This part of the process takes only 3 hours.
It is then pressed for 1 – 2 days.
The cheese is then ripened anywhere from 1 to 2 months. Many producers go beyond that in aging, from 4 to 9 months. Cheeses that are aged this old are usually sold as “Farmhouse Cheshire.”
The cheeses used to be wrapped in cloth that was soaked in lard before they were aged; some producers still do this.
Three main “types” of Cheshire are made: White, Red and Blue.
The white, which is actually pale yellow, is the natural colour of the cheese. This type is preferred in the south of England. The whites have to be monitored while they are aging as sometimes they can get a bit bitter if allowed to get too old.
Red Cheshire is simply the white Cheshire coloured with annatto (before annatto was available at the end of the 1700s, carrot juice was used.) This type is preferred in the north of England. The taste is the same as for the white Cheshire.
Blue Cheshire, Blue Fade Cheshire, Green Fade Cheshire
The Blue is a variation that some of the white Cheshires develop on their own. They have blue veins in them, like Stilton, but are much milder. Locally, they are called “Blue Fade” or “Green Fade.” These are preferred by the locals in Cheshire.
Cheshire Cheese is a good cheese to cook with as it melts well. Some cooks say that it is one of the best cheeses for a cheese sauce.
Cheddar, or other crumbly white cheeses such as Caerphilly or Lancashire
Cheshire is one of the oldest varieties of cheese made in Britain.
Standard marketing bumph for the cheese pretty much always mentions that the cheese is mentioned in the Domesday book. This is spurious. It is not. ”The widespread claim that Cheshire cheese is mentioned in the Domesday Book is nonsense.” — Dalby, Andrew. Cheese: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books. 2009.  Alan Davidson recounted this Domesday claim in the first edition of his tome The Penguin Companion to Food in 1999, but by 2014 this had been corrected and repudiated.
Food historian Andrew Dalby writes in his blog:
“Many recent books and many websites say it is. It isn’t, and I’d like to know how the mistake started. So far as I know, Cheshire cheese is first mentioned in 1586, as cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was said at that time to be the best cheese in England, and no doubt it took a long time for that reputation to be gained, but how long seems to be unknown.” Andrew Dalby. Personal Blog. January 2006. Accessed January 2022 at https://dalby.pagesperso-orange.fr/blog/archives/2006/01/entry_152.html
Though it was certainly being made from cow’s milk by the late 1600s, as described in “The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby, Knight, Opened” (ca 1669), it is possible that up till the late Middle Ages it was made by some people using goat’s or sheep’s milk, as cows were rare and prized mainly for their ability to give birth to oxen for the fields.
A newspaper account from 1943 refers to change that happened in 1875 to the way the cheese was mad, but does not specify:
“Mr W.H. Ankers, Walpole Street, Chester, and formerly of Oscroft Tarvin, is 90, but his complexion is that of a man thirty years younger. His eyes twinkle and his step is brisk. He is a man of parts. As a retired cheese factor he knows more about the Cheshire cheese trade than most people and he was for many years a follower of hounds…. Mr Ankers started business on his own account with premises in Manchester. Once a month he went to Chester, staying at the Blossoms Hotel. In those days many people connected with the trade did not go to bed for the cheese fair opened at 3 a.m. and continued until 10 a.m. Mr Ankers recalls how he used to stay up chatting until breakfast was served. Then in all weathers, they would make their way to the fair. He regretted the change of make of Cheshire cheese which became fashionable in 1875. Up to then the county made a fine long-keeping cheese but it became fashionable to make an early ripening variety which was not in the interest of the industry. In fact, some farmers suffered heavy financial loss. The value of cheese in a short time dropped from 80s a cwt. to 35s and 40s a cwt….” — Recollections of Cheshire Cheese Fairs. Crewe, Cheshire, England: The Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 9 October 1943. Page 3, col. 6.
Cheshire Cheese during World War Two
World War Two impacted production of Cheshire cheese:
“It is announced that Cheshire cheese made since the Government ban was lifted on April 1 will be on sale as part of the weekly ration within a fortnight. There is, however, a severe limitation of the milk supply available for cheese-making. Mr. Arthur Cookson, of Church Minshull, whose family has been making Cheshire cheese for generations, and whose father, Mr. Edwin Cookson of Chester, now a hale octogenarian, had one of the most noted prize-winning dairies when he farmed on the Eaton estate, states that his creamery is handling only 600 gallons of milk a day, compared with 2,000 gallons in a pre-war year.” — Local & General Notes: Cheshire Cheese Again. Chester, England: The Cheshire Observer. Saturday, 3 May 1941. Page 8, col. 2.
In May 1941, makers of Wensleydale cheese to the east in Yorkshire had been directed to stop making Wensleydale and instead put their hands to making a version of Wensleydale that approached Cheddar and Cheshire. Shortly afterwards, newspaper columns recorded at least one consumer unhappy with what was being sold as Cheshire cheese, comparing it with soap:
“At one time there was always an ample supply of Cheshire cheese on Merseyside. Since the war the county’s most famous product has mysteriously vanished, and as a rationed substitute we are given an indeterminate concoction which looks and tastes like synthetic sоар. Can anyone say where Cheshire cheese has gọne? We are told — and this officially — that the cheesemakers are making more and more cheese from Cheshire milk. It would be so nice to get a ration of Cheshire occasionally. — J. B. C., Bromborough.” —- To the editor. Liverpool, England: Liverpool Evening Express. Wednesday, 11 June 1941. Page 2, col. 4.
Some small amount of Cheshire cheese production appears to have continued during the war off and on, but at times it is difficult to gauge how much.
In March 1943, a journalist wrote:
“In the north of England it is difficult to divorce the word cheese from Cheshire, but nowadays cheese-making has almost ceased in that county. There are two main reasons. One is that more and more milk has had to be diverted for direct human consumption, and the other the acute labour shortage. In common with many other counties, labour is one of Cheshire’s main problems in her wartime farming. It is one, however, that is being eased by the Women’s Land Army….” — Cheshire Cheese-Makers. Exeter, Devon, England: Western Times. Friday, 26 March 1943. Page 4, col. 5.
There was also hope in 1943 that though industrial cheese capacity had been diverted to the production of cheddar, some farmhouse production of Cheshire would be allowed to restart with some confidence to provide at least small amounts of the cheese:
“A recent statement was made by an agricultural authority, that, for the future, milk probably would be sold mainly in liquid form and that the public at home would have to depend upon imported cheese. This somewhat alarming forecast fortunately has not been fulfilled. Mr. F. W. Foulkes, of Whitchurch, Hon. Secretary of the National Cheese Council, has received a letter from the Milk Marketing Board, to the effect that there seems to be no hope of cheesemaking in October, but that “any producer at present milk selling who desires to come back to cheesemaking will be allowed to do so, on notifying the Board of his wish to enter into a farmhouse cheesemakers’ agreement.” Another reassurance is given in a statement by the Ministry of Agriculture, that “there is no need to restrict the manufacture to those producers who participated last season”. Cheshire folk, both agricultural and urban, will look forward eagerly to the time when they can have once more that staple food, good Cheshire cheese. The imported article has played in maintaining the food supply in the War emergency, but its quality some times varies. The chief difficulty which our old cheesemakers in Cheshire and Shropshire will encounter is the difficulty of finding skilled labour for the task.” — Farmhouse Cheese. Chester, England: The Cheshire Observer. 10 April 1943. Page 5, col. 5.
A newspaper notice in 1943 indicates that there was definitely the assumption, at that point in time at least, that some Cheshire cheese was still being produced:
“Bradford Food Control Committee yesterday passed a resolution asking the Ministry of Food to consider whether a greater proportion of Cheshire cheese could be sent to Bradford instead of the Cheddar type.” — Leeds, Yorkshire: Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. Thursday, 22 April 1943. Page 6, col. 5.
In July 1943, a newspaper report on food wholesale markets reported a somewhat larger amount of Cheshire cheese available:
CHEESE: Distribution was in progress in connection to-day with the new period beginning today. Wholesalers were handling New Zealand, United States, and Canadian makes, while Cheshire cheese appeared in larger proportion of deliveries with good acceptance.” — Provisions. Liverpool, England: Liverpool Daily Post. Monday, 26 July 1943. page 4, col. 6.
An April 1944 newspaper piece appears to credit what Cheshire cheese supply there was to farmhouse makers of it, and attributes any lack to a lack of labour to make it at the farms:
“The Government need more farmhouse cheese,” said the Chairman of the Cheshire Cheese Federation at the annual meeting last Friday. Other people certainly want more Cheshire cheese, yet it seems still scarce, or even invisible. Still, if the Government are receiving a certain appreciable supply, we must be content, for we may take it that the Government are sending it to a deserving quarter. Considering the scarcity of Cheshire cheese, it is remarkable that so many cheesemakers still survive. It was reported to the Federation that, last year, there were in the Cheshire area 32 cheesemakers in Cheshire, 19 in Shropshire, seven in Maelor and one each in Denbighshire and Staffordshire, making a total of 60 still surviving. Cheshire cheese, like the Chester Race meeting, still keeps a firm hold on the tastes of the public in the North and the Midlands, who are hopeful of a revival of both Iuxuries. It was stated at the Federation meeting that the Milk Marketing Board are very desirous that farmhouse cheesemakers should stick to a their job. The difficulty is to find the cheesemakers.” — Chester, Cheshire: Cheshire Observer. Saturday, 8 April 1944. Page 8, col. 3.
By the end of the war, in 1945, local Cheshire papers began carrying notice of deaths of several famous farmhouse Cheshire cheese makers. This may have contributed to the difficulties that a revival of farmhouse Cheshire cheese was to encounter post-war, as old skills and knowledge died out, without younger people having the chance to train in the field owing to a scarcity of milk for farmhouse cheese production. Among the deaths noted were a Mrs Charles Charlesworth, aged 78, of Church Munshull [died February 1945] who had won “the special reserve prize of the Cheshire Cheese Federation in 1933. Famous Cheshire Cheesemaker. Crewe, Cheshire: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 24 February 1945. Page 3, col. 6. ; a Mrs T. Darlington, aged 67, of Woolstanwood [died March 1945], a “former well-known Cheshire cheesemaker” Wistaston. Crewe, Cheshire: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 3 March 1945. Page 6, col. 5.; and Alice Mosford, aged 100, near Chester [died April 1945], “she was a noted maker of Cheshire cheese in her day. Not only had she won many prizes at local and county shows, but she had been successful at the London Diary Show.” Centenairian’s Death. Liverpool, England: Liverpool Echo. Monday, 2 April 1945. Page 4, col. 5.
A 1945 report of a Cheshire Cheese Federation meeting gives a look at how the farmhouse industry was faring:
“The Cheshire Cheese Federation, in spite of the war and a reduction in the number of farmhouse cheesemakers, is in a strong position… the number of paid-up subscribing members was 127, compared with 146 in 1943. Only 54 of the subscribing members made cheese in 1944… There were 39 makers in Cheshire, 19 in Shropshire, and eight in Flintshire.” — The Cheese Federation in Strong Position. Nantwich, Cheshire, England: The Nantwich Chronicle. Saturday, 5 May 1945. Page 3, col. 8.
By mid 1945, cheese consumers in the north began complaining about what they perceived as unfair distribution of what little Cheshire cheese was coming to market. In June 1945, J. W. Randell, President of the Tynemouth Grocer’s Association, asserted that better distribution of rationed grocery choices should “be well within the bounds of possibility”, highlighting the lack of Cheshire cheese as an example:
“As one customer put it to me today, a piece of Cheshire cheese would be a pleasant change to the type we have been enduring so long. As a matter of fact many people have been unable to accept their cheese ration owing to the fact that it was uneatable.” — Tynemouth reply to Leeds comments. Tynemouth, Northumberland, England: Shields Daily News. Tuesday, June 1945. Page 5, col. 1.
In County Durham, some consumers appeared to feel that they were being asked unfairly to eat all the Canadian cheddar, and felt that other areas who seemed to be getting some Cheshire should share that out to them:
“On the subject of cheese, it was stated that the North-East, we had to take Canadian cheese in areas where there had been a large pre-war consumption of Cheshire cheese. Was it not fair that the North should get a little from Cheshire and ask other areas to take a portion of Canadian?” — Sector and Zoning Scheme Protests by Deputation. Sunderland, Durham, England: Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. Thursday, 23 August 1945. Page 8, col. 1.
One deputation of grocers “complained that no Cheshire cheese was to be had in the North-East, and that there had been none for the past six years. Cheshire cheese, however, was available at Carlisle, and Wensleydale cheese, another brand they had not seen for years, could be had at York. It was pointed out that at one time sales of Cheshire cheese in the North-East were the best in the country.” — N.E. Optimism After Official Deputation. Sunderland, Durham, England: Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette. Thursday, 13 September 1945. Page 4, col. 4.
Post-war Cheshire Cheese
By June of 1954, rationing of cheese had ended, and companies were ostensibly free to begin producing cheeses other than “government cheddar”. Customers looking for Cheshire cheese, however, still complained of shortages of it:
“WHERE is the Cheshire cheese which I looked forward to eating when cheese rationing ended?” asked a reader of “The Yorkshire Observer.” “Why is there still so much Cheddar?” the complaint continues. “We had far too much of it during the war.” A Bradford grocer said he was unable to meet the demand for Cheshire cheese. On his counter at present he has a small amount of it with Wensleydale also prized and Italian Gorgonzola, Dutch Gouda, Danish Blue, and English Stilton, white and blue, and Lancashire cheese, the tang of which does not find great favour on this side of the Pennines.
Another grocer said, “The situation should be easier in a few weeks. You see, during September the Ministry did not allow milk to the Cheshire cheesemakers. “Since October 1 they have been able to make and sell it freely, but Cheshire cheese must be left to mature for a month or two. Hence the temporary shortage.
“Something similar applies to the Wensleydale cheesemakers. “I know people got tired of Cheddar when it was the only kind available. It was imported. and kept in the Ministry’s store too long. A good English Cheddar cheese is a very good cheese, though it may be too solid for most people’s taste.” — Where has all the Cheshire cheese gone? Bradford, Yorkshire: Bradford Observer. Wednesday, 3 November 1954. Page 5, col. 4.
Literature & Lore
“Before the war, Yorkshire was the great Cheshire cheese-eating county. When I was a small boy special trains, beflagged and besloganed, steamed once or twice a year into the industrial West Riding carrying scores of tons of Cheshire cheese, some of it white as milk, the rest of pleasing orange hue, in consistency crumbling or creamy as the case might be… You may keep your Cheddar for baiting mousetraps.” — Cheese it. Bradford, Yorkshire: Bradford Observer. Monday, 31 January 1944. Page 2, col. 4.
|↑1||”The widespread claim that Cheshire cheese is mentioned in the Domesday Book is nonsense.” — Dalby, Andrew. Cheese: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books. 2009.|
|↑2||Alan Davidson recounted this Domesday claim in the first edition of his tome The Penguin Companion to Food in 1999, but by 2014 this had been corrected and repudiated.|
|↑3||Andrew Dalby. Personal Blog. January 2006. Accessed January 2022 at https://dalby.pagesperso-orange.fr/blog/archives/2006/01/entry_152.html|
|↑4||Famous Cheshire Cheesemaker. Crewe, Cheshire: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 24 February 1945. Page 3, col. 6.|
|↑5||Wistaston. Crewe, Cheshire: Crewe Chronicle. Saturday, 3 March 1945. Page 6, col. 5.|
|↑6||Centenairian’s Death. Liverpool, England: Liverpool Echo. Monday, 2 April 1945. Page 4, col. 5.|