There are some notable British cheeses which you may not have discovered yet. Britain has long been known for quirky names for towns and villages. Such names are steeped in history and are a refreshing change from the blandness of modern day place names. This is true as well for some of their ancient cheeses. Here is the first example:
Yes - Stinking Bishop - it is a washed-rind cheese, which generally indicates a powerful aromatic (stinky) cheese...but no, the name has nothing to do with that fact. The name refers to a pear called the Stinking Bishop because Stinking Bishop cheese is immersed every 4 weeks in a brine made of 'perry' - a hard cider made from pears, not apples!
It is thought that Stinking Bishop is based on a cheese once made by Cistercian monks in a nearby village. (Monks have always been associated with the creation of washed-rind cheeses.) When formed, the cheese is encircled with strips of beechwood. This is necessary because when this cheese is aged and fully ripe, it almost achieves puddle-like consistency. It is best to serve Stinking Bishop in a dish for that reason. This is a small-production, notable British cheese, made in Gloucestershire since the 1970s by Charles Martell. The rind is orange to grey and the paste ranges from yellowish-white to beige. The flavor naturally has fruity tones, and a milky consistency; it has a full flavor but not nearly as pungent as its strong aroma might promise. Similar in taste to the French Époisses de Bourgogne. An interesting cheese to try if you can find it.
Slack Ma Girdle - What on earth does that mean??? Another delightfully quirky English name!
The second on my list of notable British cheeses, Slack Ma Girdle is named after a cider apple. Like Stinking Bishop, it is a washed-rind cheese, made from pasteurized cows' milk, with a soft, sticky interior paste. Once formed, the cheese is wrapped in dried green nettle leaves. There really is no flavor of apples in this cheese at all. It has more of an herb flavor, mild and tasty. This too is a small-production cheese which is also made by Charles Martell.
Hailing from County Cork, Ireland, Farmhouse Gubbeen is a washed-rind pasteurized cows' milk cheese made from the milk of what the cheesemakers - Tom and Giana Ferguson - call a 'cheesemakers' herd' because they use 5 different breeds of cow on their farm. (Friesian, mixed-Friesian, Guernsey, Simmenthal and Kerry). The cows produce low volumes of milk with high solids volume - excellent for cheesemaking. Also, the local terroir contributes to the unique flavor of Gubbeen - lush pasturage on the hillsides with salty ocean air from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
The cheese is typically soft, smooth and buttery with a tan, sticky rind. As it ripens over a 2 month period it will begin to ooze. It is pungent and reminiscent of a Livarot or a Munster. Once you try Gubbeen, you may want to check out other similar Irish washed rind cheeses such as: Milleens, Durrus and Ardrahan.
Coolea- the 4th among our notable British cheeses, resembles a Dutch Farmhouse (Boeren Kaase) Gouda for good reason - it was first made by Helene and Dick Willems who moved to Ireland from Holland some 20+ years ago. Now their son and daughter-in-law carry on the tradition. The town of Coolea is in County Cork, as is their farm. This is a big prizewinner; in fact it won the award for Best Modern British Cheese in 2007! A semi-hard to hard cheese, Coolea is a traditionally-made farmstead cheese which comes in three sizes: 2, 9 and 19 lb. wheels.
Unlike many farmhouse cheeses, this one has a synthetic plasticote rind. Don't be put off by that - the plasticote actually allows the cheese to breathe. The cheese is typically aged for 6 to 12 months (sometimes longer). The younger versions will be mild, creamy and nutty, whereas the older versions will become more complex, a bit stronger with a hint of caramel, sweet and rich. The interior paste is a satisfying deep yellow and the texture is somewhat chewy. Altogether Coolea is a wonderful cheese you should try.
You can always recognize Ticklemore in the cheese shop because of the unusual dimpled rind. This is because the cheese is formed in 5 lb. baskets during production; causing a natural basket-dimple rind during its 10 week aging.
This is a moist, semi-soft goat cheese (but hard in texture compared to most goat cheeses) made by two outstanding artisan cheesemakers in Devonshire - Robin Congdon and his partner, Sarie Cooper. It is not overly strong or tangy, but rather quite delicate. Now made with pasteurized goat's milk, it is hand-molded in baskets, giving the cheese its distinctive flattened sphere shape. The natural rind is lightly dusted with white mold and the interior paste will be white, with an open texture. In addition to making cheese, the partners also have a cheese shop, Ticklemore Cheese Shop in the town of Totnes. This is a top pick for notable British cheeses.
Looking for an unusual raw sheep's milk cheese? Look no further - Spenwood is a perfect choice.
Made by Ann Wigmore in Buckinghamshire near London, it is a hard pressed cheese, produced in a manner similar to the Italian method of making Pecorino cheeses. This one won't disappoint. It has a rich, nutty flavor and the interior paste develops into a dry, crumbly texture as it ages. The natural rind is greyish-beige and the interior is bone in color. Cindy Major's Vermont Shepherd (a great American artisanal cheese) is similar to Spenwood.
A notable British cheeses list would not be complete without adding a few British Blues. Beenleigh Blue heads up my list of really wonderful Blue cheeses and is one of the best sheep's milk Blues anywhere.
Stilton of course, stands on its own - but there are several other British Blues which deserve your attention. Beenleigh Blue is made by Robin Congdon in Devonshire (the same guy who makes the terrific Ticklemore). As it ages Beenleigh Blue develops a really powerful flavor, full and toasty. It is milder than Roquefort, but not as salty. It comes in 6-8 lb. drums with a naturally moist rind. The interior is beautifully veined with greyish-blue mold. You can find this cheese in the shops from fall to spring.
Look for two other British Blues:
Harbourne Blue, the third entry from master cheesemaker Robin Congdon, is unusual because it is a goat's milk Blue. Enjoy it because it is the only British goat's milk Blue. Best eaten when young (4 months or so), this is an ideal cheese for dessert. It is firm, creamy with a pronounced flavor. It is not heavily veined and what veins there are, are blue-green with a very white paste. This cheese is available in fall and winter.
Shropshire Blue is another modern day Blue cheese. Mrs. Hutchison Smith first began producing this wonderful cheese in Nottinghamshire back in the 1970s. Today it is produced by the cheesemakers at Colston-Bassett Dairy - the makers of the very best Stilton. The paste is organically dyed with annatto, producing a bright yellow-orange color veined with blue-green mold. (You could refer to it as the orange Stilton!) The rind is reddish-brown and splotched with mold.Typically aged for 2 to 3 months, this cheese is not quite as rich as a Stilton, but still compares very favorably. It is a dense cheese which pairs very well with port.
Now that you have read about some wonderful cheeses and you want to rush out and buy some ... you'll want to buy some wine or ale or cider to accompany your British Cheese selections. So first, read up on Pairing British Cheeses here.