Cheshire's place within the history of cheesemaking in the UK

Continuing our celebration of Cheshire Month, here Bronwen Percival, our buyer, offers insight into the history of the Cheshire recipe.

Before the mid-17th century, cheese was made in small amounts on estates and farms in the northwest of England. So-called ‘Cheshire’ cheese rose to prominence between 1650 and 1750 with the advent of inexpensive shipping routes to London. These new routes substantially decreased the cost of transport, and ships returned with products of the Empire: textiles, tea, coffee, sugar, and spices. Cheese made throughout the north-west of England was shipped to fulfil demand from cheesemongers in London, where it was all known as Cheshire.

Cheddar and Stilton were known in London during this time, but were extremely expensive - three to four times the price of Cheshire. Due to its unique access to shipping routes, Cheshire reigned in the 17th and 18th centuries. Over the course of the 19th century, however, it was supplanted by Cheddar. The systematisation of Cheddar making meant that not only did the quantity of good Cheddar improve, but the technique was taught at cheese schools in other parts of the country, including the areas where Cheshire was made. Additionally, an influx of factory Cheddar from the USA provided a cheap alternative for urban consumers.

Farmhouse cheesemaking was already in decline throughout Britain by the end of the 19th century, as competition from cheaper imported cheese and a steady demand for liquid milk reshaped the dairy industry. What few farmhouse cheesemakers persisted were further encouraged to switch to liquid milk production with the creation of the Milk Marketing Board in 1933.

– Bronwen Percival