It is thought that cheese making originates from more than 2000 years ago. Legend has it that a nomadic herdsman stored his milk in a vessel made from the sheeps' and goats' stomachs on his journey across the desert. On reaching the end of his journey he discovered that the milk had separated into liquid (whey) and solid (curd) - cheese was born and we’re still rejoicing today!
Cheese making was introduced into Britain by the Romans around 54BC and spread throughout the country with differences in processes, sources of milk and storage methods being adopted in different regions.
Probably the most consumed cheese in the world, Cheddar originated from Somerset around the late 12th century and took its name from the gorge or caves in the town of Cheddar that were used to store the cheese. The constant temperature and humidity of the caves provided a perfect environment for maturing the cheese.
Today Cheddar is made in dairies throughout the UK and around the world. The environment in which the Cheddar is made and the environment in which the cows graze all have an impact on the flavour of the Cheddar, as does the length of time for which the cheese is matured.
Cheddar is sold at different ages. Mild Cheddar is typically sold at about 3 months of age; medium matured Cheddar at 5 to 6 months; mature Cheddar at around 9 months, extra mature at around 15 months and vintage at 18 months or more. As it matures so its taste develops from the young creamy taste of mild Cheddar to complex, lasting, slightly nutty flavours of mature Cheddar and beyond.
Originally cheese made in the Severn Vale was made from the milk of Cotswold sheep. As early as 1498 so much cheese was being made in Gloucester that a permanent market was set up in Eastgate Street in the city of Gloucester.
By Tudor times cow’s milk was the norm across the Vale of Berkeley and down to Bristol. This came mainly from Old Gloucester cows whose milk was ideal for cheese making. In 1745 cattle plague all but wiped out the breed and was replaced by the Longhorn. Once re-stocked, farms began to supply more liquid milk into London. In 1789 production of Gloucester cheese was estimated at more than 1000 tonnes.
Today, Double Gloucester cheese is made in many parts of the UK. It has a characteristic light orange hue given by the addition of annatto to the milk. This has been a traditional characteristic of the cheese since the 16th century. During the summer months the high levels of carotene in the grass would have given the milk an orangey colour which was carried through into the cheese. This orange hue was regarded as an indicator of the best cheese and that is why the custom of adding annatto spread to other parts of the UK with Cheshire and Red Leicester cheese as well as coloured Cheddar made in Scotland all using this natural dye.
Flavour levels depend on the age of the cheese. Most Double Gloucester is sold at about 4 months of age and has a firm close texture and a clean mellow, creamy or buttery flavour.
What we call "Red Leicester" cheese today was formerly known as "Leicestershire Cheese" - named like so many of our traditional cheeses after the county from which it originated.
The cheese can be traced back to the 17th century and the style of cheese was much influenced by cheese making practices in other parts of England. Farmers recognised the need to make their cheeses look and if possible taste different from cheese made in other parts of the country and the convention of colouring cheese with annatto - a vegetable dye derived from the husk of the fruit of the annatto tree found in South America and the Caribbean - spread from Gloucester and Cheshire to Leicestershire.
Leicester cheese was a highly rated owing to the fine grazing conditions available in the county and although cheese was sent to other parts of the country - notably London - most was consumed in the county. Cheese making declined in the 20th century as demand for liquid milk grew and in the second world war production of all speciality cheese ceased and the addition of colouring agents was banned.
This enabled all cheese to be made to a national recipe to suit the rationing system that was put into place. This was a white Cheddar style cheese which locals often referred to as White Leicester cheese. With the ending of wartime controls in the 1950s, production of Leicester cheese - made with Annatto - resumed and to avoid confusion with what was considered to be the inferior White Leicester, was commonly referred to as Red Leicester cheese.
Production of the cheese shifted to other parts of the UK as cheese making on farms all but disappeared in the county.
Red Leicester is a russet red hard pressed cheese which will be sold at anything from 3 months to 12 months of age. It is a creamy cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty, mellow flavour that becomes stronger as the cheese matures.
Red Leicester is a versatile cheese and is essentially a Cheddar alternative. It melts beautifully, adds colour to a cheeseboard and to sauces and makes a flavoursome addition to salads either grated or cubed.