Cheshire is a semi-firm cheese with a silky-crumbly texture. Ripened an average of two to three months, it’s relatively mild when young, and sharper and more full-flavoured when allowed to further mature. Cheshire cheese is made in three types: white, red, and blue.
The white (actually ivory to pale yellow in color) and red (deep peach to orange in color) are identical in flavor. The only difference in the red variety is the annatto vegetable dye used to give it attractive coloring.
Blue Cheshire, penetrated by mold during aging, has a beautiful golden interior tinted with blue veins. It is distinctively sharp, crumbly, and rich, but milder in flavor compared to English Stilton. Blue Cheshire has not been widely produced since the 1990s, but recent demand for the cheese has spurred a revival from producers like Cheshire’s H.S. Bourne.
In addition to the typical white, red, and blue, Cheshire is also made in specialty varieties such as organic, mature, and oak-smoked. At various times of year, producers will also offer selections flavored with apricot, cranberry, ginger, or dates and walnuts.
Cheshire is perhaps England’s oldest cheese on record, with a mention in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book circa 1086. Since then, the cheese has earned legions of devotees, including famed 16th century historian/mapmaker John Speed who once proclaimed Cheshire to be the best cheese in Europe.
By the 18th century, Cheshire was the most popular cheese on the market. Produced at an estimated 10,000 tonnes per year, it was the only cheese stocked on the ships of the British Royal Navy. In later years, Cheshire saw a decline in production as a larger variety of cheeses became more widely available, particularly younger, fresher crumbly cheeses that were cheaper to produce.
Though Cheshire reached its peak of production in 1960 at around 40,000 tonnes, it still holds rank as the UK’s best-selling crumbly cheese. It’s also a classic favourite among cheese lovers in France, America, and Canada.