In this post, our colleague Jennifer Kast, explores the history of the Cheshire recipe and looks at how it has changed through the ages.
The history of Cheshire cheese making over the past 120 years reveals significant changes in both make and concept. After a long period of the ‘Cheshire’ designation denoting origin rather than style, the end of the 19th Century saw the development of a more specific Cheshire making system. This system linked milk seasonality with the keeping qualities of the cheese.
Cheshire makers were encouraged to make 3 types of cheese to match the three aspects of milk quality over a season: Early ripening (2-6 weeks), Medium ripening (2-4 months), and Long Keeping (6 -12 months) . The recipe for each type was different, with varying volumes of moisture left in the curd: the sooner sold the wetter. Over time fewer cheesemakers made Long Keeping cheeses as they discovered the economic benefits of producing Early and Medium Ripening cheese: higher yields, faster turnover. By 1923 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries provided detailed recipes for Medium Ripening Cheshire cheese in its cheese bulletins, with only a quick note of the other two styles. By the mid-1950s, agricultural colleges focused Cheshire cheese instruction on the production of Middle Ripening cheese.
Consumers slowly lost the opportunity to buy Early Ripening and Long Keeping Cheshire. It comes as no surprise then, that the Cheshire we now consider to be ‘traditional’, is likely most similar to the Middle Ripening cheeses of the early 20th century. If the modern consumer were confronted with either an Early Ripening or a Long Keeping Cheshire today, she would likely not recognise it as Cheshire. Changes at the macro level are easy to spot in the historical record, but at the individual farmhouse level, these changes are less obvious because they are more incremental.
At Neals Yard Dairy, we have been selecting batches of Cheshire from the Appleby family every month for over 30 years. There has been tremendous continuity in their making style and our flavour profile. But through the years there have also been subtle changes in the cheese with a movement to a more crumbly, less layered curd. This change is reflected in notes from the Appleby’s dairy. The Cheesemaking notes from 1957-2015 reveal many changes, including a slow but steady alteration in acidities at wheying off and milling. To the layperson, this may seem insignificant, but such alterations significantly affect flavour, texture, and body of cheeses as they mature. Is the cheese better or worse? No, just different, reflecting its maker and its time.