Yorkshire cheeses: what are the very best Yorkshire cheeses?
Being a Yorkshire cheesemonger and with Yorkshire Day fast approaching (1st August) I thought now is an especially appropriate time to champion Yorkshire cheese!
When it comes to a long history of cheese-making, Yorkshire certainly has one: following the Norman invasion in 1066, many French Cistercian monks came over to set up the huge monastic estates which have dominated the Yorkshire dales for centuries (famous abbeys such as Jervaulx, Fountains and Bolton). The monks also brought cheese making techniques, which they put to good use making firm, crumbly cheeses throughout the dales: Nidderdale, Wensleydale, Teesdale, Swaledale and Coverdale, each similar to the others. These Yorkshire cheeses were often made from sheep’s milk, firm and loose textured with a moistness and rich blue marbling, tasting, apparently, “finer than Stilton”.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, cheese making continued in Yorkshire, with production moving to the farms as recipes were passed on to farmers’ wives. With time these cheeses began to change, farmers started to farm cows, and advances in cheese-making, coupled with a desire to make consistent, recognisable cheeses, meant the dales cheeses became firmer, drier and sharper – like the crumbly, white Wensleydale we know today.
This move towards producing consistent, white, crumbly cheese unfortunately came at the expense of farmhouse cheese making in Yorkshire (the last farmhouse production of Wensleydale ceased in 1957). Unlike the countryside of the south-west that is perfect for grazing cows, the inconvenient dales and associated rolling hills up north meant that many Yorkshire farmers switched from dairy to sheep and beef-cattle farming – which doesn’t involve having to get the herds back to a parlour to be milked twice a day.
At The Courtyard Dairy the ethos is to support cheese-makers that still make cheese using traditional methods on their own farm, and with their own herd of animals. This means, of course, that the number of Yorkshire cheese-makers the shop works with is relatively small, simply because so many Yorkshire cheeses are big-creamery produced.
Thankfully, great Yorkshire farmhouse cheeses can be found, however, and encouragingly Andy Swinscoe has talked to a few Yorkshire small farmers in recent years who are looking at returning to farmhouse cheese-making. Many of them also farm the Northern Dairy Shorthorn cow, which produces lovely, rich milk – just perfect for cheese!)
The small Yorkshire producers that still make traditional cheese with milk from their own herds include:
- Botton Creamery. They have been making farmhouse cheese for over half a century. Botton was formed in 1955 as a Camphill Community to offer opportunities to adults with learning disabilities and other special needs. Using the rich, unpasteurised milk from their 46 Dairy Shorthorn cows, they make a range of traditional cloth-bound cheeses that The Courtyard Dairy is proud to champion: Yorkshire Gouda, the tangy Dale End Cheddar and Moorland Tomme.
- Cotherstone (OK, yes, it is based in Teesdale, County Durham, but it’s right on the border of Yorkshire). Cheese-maker Joan Cross is perhaps one of the most traditional makers of cheese in the UK and has been making this excellent dales cheese as long as any one can remember. A true dales cheese – made the way it used to be made.
- Fortmayne Dairy. Originally made in Middleham (North Yorkshire), Richard III Wensleydale is a cloth-bound Wensleydale that is moister, lighter and fresher than its modern day namesake, which is much sharper and crumblier, now made at Sandham’s (Garstang)
Besides these small farmhouse Yorkshire cheese-makers, there has been in recent years a number of new cheese-makers spring up across the county. Keep an eye out for these Yorkshire cheeses when you are out and about: many of them are available from other Yorkshire cheese shops, delis, farmshops and some supermarkets:
- Barncliffe Brie. Made by Danny Lockwood in Shelley, Huddersfield, this is a recent creation of a creamy gentle brie-style, also known as Yorkshire Brie.
- Lacey’s Cheese. Based in the old Station at Richmond, Simon Lacey makes a range of hard cheeses and you can watch him at work!
- Lowna Dairy. A range of goats’ milk cheeses – soft, blue and hard, using their own milk in East Yorkshire (near Hull)
- Pextenement Cheese Co. Based at Todmorden, (some could debate Lancashire… but they will insist its Yorkshire) they make a traditional cheddar and soft creamy Coulommier style cheese with milk from their own farm.
- Ribblesdale. Famous for her goats’ milk Gouda-styles, Iona Hill also makes some lovely fresh goats’ curd and hard cows’ milk cheeses at her small creamery based in Hawes.
- Shepherd’s Purse. They produce a wide range of cheeses at their creamery in Thirsk, ranging from Harrogate and Yorkshire Blue to Fine Fettle (a Feta style).
- Swaledale Cheese. In the mid 1980s the last small farm making traditional Swaledale cheese with sheep’s milk gave up, but donated their recipe to David and Mandy Reed. The Reeds continue to make a cheese in a similar dales style and have since added other variations to the range including using cows’ milk, goats’ milk and flavour additions.
- Wensleydale Creamery. The famous Wensleydale creameries were for a long time the sole producers of Wensleydale cheese in the dale. They still make Wensleydale and other cheeses at Hawes and Kirkby Malzeard, ranging from flavour added (with cranberries, etc.), to more traditional recipes, such as the lovely Kit Calvert, and a modern take on Wensleydale blue.
- Yellison. A goats’ cheese log made near Bradley (North Yorkshire) using milk from their own herd of goats, it is fresh, light and delicate.
And if you need something to complement your Yorkshire cheese choice – don’t forget Yorkshire produces some outstanding chutneys, often made with fruits grown in the county. Search out Rosebud, Raydale and Harrogate Preserves, to name a few.
So go and find your local Yorkshire cheese shop and get celebrate the 1st of August with some proper Yorkshire cheese!