British Territorial Cheeses – traditional British cheeses and their characteristics
Ever wondered what makes a Caerphilly, Cheshire or Cheddar different? Hundreds of years ago the differences would have been even more distinct, as areas developed their cheese recipes to suit their local climate, geography and needs (terroir). Nowadays the boundaries have become a bit more blurred as cheese recipes have become a bit more standardised.
But traditional cheeses still have characteristics that the public have come to expect them to exhibit. Britain’s traditional cheeses are often called ‘territorials’ and are named after the county or area where they come from. Britain’s key territorial cheeses are detailed below, along with the characteristics a cheese grader (who selects and tastes the cheese to check it is good enough) would expect them to exhibit, examining their body and texture, flavour and aroma, colour, and finish.
Britain’s firm, hard cheese types (mainly originating from the southern counties):
Traditionally these are Cheddar, Gloucester and Leicestershire, but also include Wiltshire, Derby, etc.. Production typically has low starter inoculation rate, small curd size, and scalding / stirring for minimum of an hour.
Flavour and Aroma: clean, from mild to more powerful (tangy). Be wary of ‘prickly’, bitter, ‘off’ and sour flavours. Good Cheddars have complex long flavours (from buttery, fruity and rich to savoury, caramel and nutty) with a tangy bite at the end.
Body and Texture: firm, some mechanical openings (slits in the cheese), close texture, smooth and uniform colour. Has a ‘snap’ to the texture.
Aged usually 4 months to 15+ months.
Examples: Hafod Cheddar, Montgomery’s, Keen’s, Westcombe.
- Double Gloucester
Flavour and Aroma: clean and mellow, milky and smooth, slight tang, minerally.
Body and Texture: moderately firm, silky-smooth, creamy.
Aged usually 3-4 months.
Examples: Appleby’s Double Gloucester, or Diana Smart’s Double Gloucester.
- Red Leicester
Flavour and Aroma: clean, full-bodied with slight acidity; rich milky and nutty flavours, not sharp.
Body and Texture: moderately firm, flaky, slightly open texture, moister than Cheddar.
Aged usually 4-6 months.
Example: Sparkenhoe red Leicester.
Flavour and Aroma: clean, mild, acidic and fresh, sometimes milky.
Body and Texture: moderately firm, open crumbly paste. Colour should be bright white unless deliberately coloured.
Aged usually 3 months.
Example: Appleby’s Cheshire (or try Anster too!).
Flavour and Aroma: clean, mild acidic and milky fresh.
Body and Texture: moderately firm, closed flaky texture, fairly dry but with a bit of moistness.
Aged usually 2+ months.
Example: Richard III Wensleydale, Hawes Wensleydale, Kit Calvert Wensleydale.
- Creamy / Tasty Lancashire
Flavour and Aroma: clean, mildly acidic, becoming stronger with age for ‘tasty’ cheeses, buttery, lemony and yoghurty aromas.
Body and Texture: softer texture, smooth, buttery and ‘friable’.
Aged usually 3 months for ‘Creamy’, 4-9+ months for ‘Tasty’.
Examples: Kirkham’s Lancashire.
- Crumbly Lancashire
Flavour and Aroma: clean, acidic and fresh, sometimes milky.
Body and Texture: moderately dry, very crumbly, open texture. Colour should be bright white unless deliberately coloured.
Aged usually 1 month.
Examples: Dewlay and Butlers make good creamery versions (no farmhouse is made).
Flavour and Aroma: clean, mild acidic, citric -lemony and lactic notes, with fresh, milky flavours.
Body and Texture: moderately firm, open texture, short but not too crumbly. If mould ripened (traditional rinded) it breaks down with age (3+ months) for a buttery, mushroomy exterior to counter the crumbly fresh paste. Colour should be bright white unless deliberately coloured.
Aged usually 2+ months.
Examples: Gorwydd Caerphilly, Ducketts.