Photograph of Appleby's Smoked Cheshire
Map of Great Britain showing the location of Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Crumbly with a fresh tangy flavour.

Made using cows' milk Made using unpasteurised milk Suitable for vegetarians

Cheshire is considered to be the oldest British cheese. It is mentioned in the Doomsday book (1086) and probably dates back to Roman times. Genuine Cheshire is said to be made with the milk from cattle grazed on the salty pastures of the Cheshire plain in Cheshire, Shropshire and Clwyd. It was so popular in London at one time that cheeses had to be shipped from Liverpool to London in order to keep up with the demand.

Although Cheshire is naturally a light golden colour, it is more often dyed to a rich orange using annatto. Legend has it that because its reputation was so good, some Welsh farmers labelled their own cheese as Cheshire and sold it to coach travellers on the Holyhead to London route. The Londoners were unhappy when they tasted the inferior cheese back at home and thus the name of Cheshire cheese began to fall into disrepute. The Welsh farmers were told to dye their cheese in order to distinguish it from real Cheshire. However, the new coloured cheese quickly became fashionable and the Cheshire makers soon found themselves having to follow suit. Thus, red Cheshire was born.

Cheshire takes only two to three hours to make. The morning milk is added to the previous evening's milk, and after coagulation the curds are scalded in the whey for about 40 minutes. The whey is drained off very quickly while the cheese-maker cuts the curds and then tears it into small pieces. It is then salted, milled and put into moulds to be pressed for 24 to 48 hours. The Applebys still use unpasteurised milk and bandage their cheese in the traditional way using cloths dipped in lard. Although they have a large farm with 290 Fresian cows and a cheese vat that appears to be the size of a swimming pool, they still are still able to make one of the finest Cheshires to be found.

Traditionally smoking cheeses was used as a preservative, but today it is being increasingly used by farmhouse cheesemakers to add an extra dimension to their cheese. Before smoking a cheese, it is cut into four wheels. This enables the smoky flavour to fully penetrate. The Applebys smoke their Cheshire cheeses over oak bark, to give the rich distinctive flavour. The rind becomes darker brown and has a fabulous smoky aroma. Interestingly, the paste becomes a little paler.

Each wheel of the smoked cheese is approximately 7-8cm tall, 20cm in diameter, weighs 2kg and has a fat content of 48%. Smoked cheese makes a more unusual addition to a cheese board, or can be enjoyed on its own with a glass of cider for example.

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