Cheese is made from the milk of a cow, goat or sheep. Milk is ripened by the addition of a ‘starter’ culture of lactic acid bacteria which turns milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. The milk sours as it ripens, separating into the solid curds and the liquid whey. The curds form the basis of the cheese we eat, helped by added rennet.
Because of differences between the cheese-making processes of various countries, there is a huge variety of cheeses available from all over the world.
Buying and storing cheese Buy cheese fresh if you can, and in the quantity you will use over four or five days. Wrap loosely in cling film or aluminium foil and store in a cool larder or in the refrigerator.
About an hour before serving, take out of the refrigerator, unwrap it and allow the cheese to breathe’ so that its full flavour is brought out.
You may buy cheese, pre-packed, with storage times printed on the package. As with cheese cut fresh, make sure it isn’t dry, cracked, sweaty or oily. Always buy from a good grocer or a reliable supermarket where fast turnover ensures freshness.
The cheeses listed here represent the range of home-produced and imported cheeses most available throughout Great Britain. With unfamiliar cheeses, buy small portions to see if you like their taste.
Caerphilly Originating from Wales, this is a creamy white cheese with a semi-smooth texture and a mild flavour. Ideal for a cheeseboard, for filling celery and making savoury spreads.
Lancashire A white, crumbly cheese with a tangy flavour. Famous for cooking in sauces and toasting.
White Wensleydale Originally made by the monks at Jervaulx Abbey, this mild, creamy-coloured cheese with its unique taste goes well with apple pie.
Cheddar Easily the most popular cheese available in the UK, with a firm, crumbly texture and a taste which becomes more mellow as the cheese ages. It is ideal for cooking, serving with biscuits, or toasted on bread. Look for Farmhouse Cheddar, a matured cheese with a rich flavour. Ireland, New Zealand and Canada also manufacture Cheddar cheese.
Cheshire Both red and white have a crumbly texture and a mild, slightly salty flavour. Excellent served with cake, fruit and biscuits. Blue Cheshire is also available.
Farmhouse Cheshire is normally made from the milk of a single herd of cows. This tasty cheese is of high quality, due to its slow maturing period of at least six months.
Derby A pale cheese with a smooth texture and a mild flavour which matures with age. Sage Derby has chopped sage leaves added which gives the cheese extra flavour and an attractive, marbled appearance.
Dunlop A traditional mellow Scottish cheese, produced mainly in the islands of Arran and Islay.
Double Gloucester A bright orange-yellow buttery cheese, with a smooth and close texture and mild flavour. Eat with salad or fruit at the end of a meal.
Leicester A buttery soft cheese with a rich orange appearance, and fairly mild taste. An excellent cooking and eating cheese.
BLUE VEINED CHEESES
The blue veins in these cheeses are produced by the growth of penicillium moulds. Stainless steel needles are used to produce air holes in the cheese to allow the moulds to grow. Some blue veined cheeses are still ripened in cool caves where the mould grows naturally.
Blue Stilton The ‘King of Cheeses’ has a characteristic rich flavour and creamy, blue-veined body, formed by allowing the penetration of a penicillium mould. Traditionally accompanied by port.
Blue Wensleydale When blue mould is introduced into white Wensleydale it gives it a distinctive rich flavour. The cheese takes longer to mature than white Wensleydale.
Stuart A Scottish blue-vein cheese from the mould penicillium roquefort. It is a rich and creamy cheese with a delicious nutty flavour.
MORE UNUSUAL CHEESES
Applewood Cheddar cheese smoked over applewood.
Caboc A rich, creamy Scottish cheese, pale in colour, with the surface rolled in toasted oatmeal. Ideal for spreading on biscuits.
Cotswold A cheese based on double Gloucester and flavoured with chives.
Crowdie This is a skimmed milk soft curd cheese with a sharp tangy flavour. Its manufacture follows the methods once used on Scottish farms.
Garlic A full-fat soft cheese with chopped fresh leaves of wild garlic herb. It is coated with flaked oats and nuts.
Ilchester A Cheddar-based cheese, flavoured with beer and garlic. It has a soft texture and a good flavour.
Red Windsor A red-streaked, crumbly-textured, Cheddar-based cheese with a flavour similar to mild Cheddar. Ideal for eating with biscuits or in salads.
Walton A soft cheese, based on Cheddar and mixed with Stilton and walnuts.
Fresh cheeses Cottage, cream and curd cheeses are soft. Mild and slightly acidic. A ‘starter’ culture is added to pasteurised milk or cream to produce soft acid or cream cheese. This method is based
on the traditional home-made cheese recipe.
Made by breaking down other cheeses, e.g. Cheddar and Cheshire, and adding emulsifying salts. The cheese is bought pre-packed and may be flavoured with celery, ham, prawn or a similar ingredient. Its texture is smooth.
Brie A French cheese made from cows’ milk. It has a soft pale yellow appearance and an edible crust.
Camembert A famous French cheese from Normandy with a creamy, pale yellow appearance and a soft crust. Like Brie, it is made from cows’ milk, but has a much stronger taste.
Danish Blue Made from homogenised milk with a high cream content. A blue-veined cheese with a salty flavour and soft, slightly crumbly texture.
Edam A Dutch cheese made from partly skimmed milk, encased in a red wax rind. It has a slightly rubbery texture and mild flavour.
Emmenthal A full-flavoured cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty taste. Like Gruyere, it is hard-pressed but has larger holes. It melts easily: use it with an equal weight of Cheddar in a cheese sauce.
Gorgonzola An Italian cheese with a mottled green appearance and a coarse brown rind. It has a firm texture and a sharp taste.
Gouda A soft Dutch cheese with a high butterfat content. Golden in appearance and creamy in taste.
Gruyere A hard, pale yellow cheese with small holes and a brown, wrinkled rind, made in France and Switzerland. Excellent for cooking, and delicious for fondues.
Mozzarella A soft Italian curd cheese with a slightly sour taste. It is ideal for use in pizzas and lasagna.
Parmesan A hard Italian cheese, its strong fragrance and flavour make it ideal for cooking, and it adds a finishing touch when finely grated and sprinkled over soups and pasta dishes.
Roquefort A crumbly, salty blue French cheese, made from ewes’ milk. A mould develops naturally in the cheese to give the characteristic green veins.
A close-up of a blue veined cheese. The veins are thriving colonies of the mould, penicillium roquefortii
Once cheese like this was left to ripen in damp, dark caves and the mould invaded naturally. Now, because of commercial pressures, almost every cheese is inoculated with spores of mould before being left to ripen.
No blue veined cheese is alike. The variety of ‘white’ cheese influences the flavour and texture, even though the mould growth is the same. Roquefort, with its pungent taste and crumbly texture, is as different from soft, salty Danish blue as that cheese is from Stilton or blue Cheshire. One thing they have in common is the way they ripen from the centre outwards, as the veins spread. Serve with water biscuits or wholemeal bread, butter and slices of crisp celery, a bunch of watercress or a green salad. Add home-made pickles or chutney and fresh fruit.