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Map of the Week: Cheese

Mark Easton | 17:10 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

Blessed they are. Britain's cheese makers have been reborn after a century of statutory persecution.

Celebrating (as one must) British Cheese Week and British Food Fortnight, I wanted to tell the uplifting story of how localism has triumphed over centralised control; how the joyless yoke of homogenisation and industrialisation has been lifted from an industry which exemplifies the creativity and diversity of the British Isles.

As luck would have it, this week also sees the publication of a new book that includes a map of Britain's cheeses - a portrait of lactic invention to make a cheese lover's heart sing.

Map of cheeses in Britain

Map of cheeses in Ireland

Maps taken from the World Cheese Book, by Juliet Harbutt, published by DK

Once upon a time, 3,000 dairy farm wives took paddle and churn to the fresh milk that was not consumed by the local villagers. On 3,000 kitchen tables, 3,000 cheeses were prepared. This was the method of preserving the protein goodness of the cowshed so the ploughman might have his lunch.

But then, as the second half of the 19th century steamed into view, all that changed. The arrival of the railways transformed rural life. Instead of dairy farmers selling fresh milk only to the community around the herd or flock, crates could be despatched far beyond, even into the hearts of rapidly expanding cities.

A network of milk-trains and door-step deliverymen brought farm-fresh milk to every corner of the nation. And we lapped it up.

Farmers could scarcely keep up with demand from a growing population. The need to preserve the leftovers all but disappeared.

Instead, new industrial technology allowed producers to centralise cheese-making with excess milk from across their region. To brand their product, cheeses increasingly took on the name of the area from which they hailed. But more than that - the search for consistent quality meant recipe, shape and size were controlled.

From this process emerged the reputations of some of the truly great cheeses of Britain, but it also rang the death knell for small, local cheese makers. Hundreds of varieties were lost forever; individuality did not fit with the times.

It was to get worse. Rationing in World War II saw the Ministry of Food stipulate that only one type could be manufactured - the National Cheese. A form of rubbery cheddar, this abomination came to define cheese in the nation's mind.

By the 1960s, bland, processed, homogenised factory-made gunk was served as a "sophisticated delicacy" on cocktail sticks accompanied by a chunk of tinned pineapple. To this day there are many who think of cheese as a lump of orange, sweaty fat grated on to a slice of white.

Man selling cheeseBut when the price of milk plummeted in the 1990s, the resilience and imagination of Britain's dairy farmers was tested. They desperately needed new products to survive.
Perhaps they opened the old trunk at the back of the barn and found great-great grand-mother's recipe. Or maybe they experimented with cheese-cloth and press on the kitchen table. But the last 20 years have seen an extraordinary renaissance for British cheese.

Juliet Harbutt, editor in chief of The World Cheese Book, is a driving force behind the growth in high quality produce. Last week, the annual British Cheese Awards she created saw more than 800 cheeses entered by 189 makers in a celebration of all that is local and excellent. Farmers' markets are bringing the cheese artisan into cities and towns, introducing a new generation to the true meaning of the product. Consumption of cheese is rising - just four kilos per head per year in the mid-60s, now put at over 12 kilos.

So the story has a happy ending. A lost art has been rediscovered, a tradition has been revived and a smile is being put back on the face of a nation that had almost forgotten how to say "cheese".


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  • 1. At 5:29pm on 02 Oct 2009, calmandhope wrote:

    Long live cheese!

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  • 2. At 5:57pm on 02 Oct 2009, John Ellis wrote:

    Yup I love my cheese cured and aged properly loverly

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  • 3. At 6:16pm on 02 Oct 2009, RangerGrainger wrote:

    If the Stilton marker in southern Derbyshire is meant to represent the Dairy Crest dairy in Hartington, I am sad to report that this source of wonderful cheeses has closed after an abortive attempt by Long Clawson Dairy to take it over, following a Competition Commission enquiry.

    People travelled from all over the Peak District and surrounding counties to buy their marvellous produce because it was without equal. Now the supermarkets have won another victory, thanks to meddling bureaucracy.

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  • 4. At 6:27pm on 02 Oct 2009, John Coyle wrote:

    What a commendable piece of research.
    Is it too much to hope that we might one day see a resurrection of the many lost specialist cheese shops?
    Supermarkets just cannot meet the genuine need for on - the - spot product information, advice and the expert handling of the multifarious, delectable cheeses which are now available.
    Or, do the excessive rent and rates bills for small shops rule out all specialisation today. Progress? Hmm.

    John C.

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  • 5. At 6:33pm on 02 Oct 2009, squirrelist wrote:

    I just wish my local Tesco would sell something other than 20 varieties of Cheddar. I want my proper crumbly slightly sharp Lancashire for my cheese on toast!

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  • 6. At 7:02pm on 02 Oct 2009, John Ellis wrote:

    Nice creamy but mature stilton thick on toast yummy yup supermarkets aint so super when it comes to cheese. Dont like weak cheese though to close to sour milk for my taste buds.

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  • 7. At 8:04pm on 02 Oct 2009, Doctor Bob wrote:

    Nice piece of news!

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  • 8. At 8:53pm on 02 Oct 2009, U7161659 wrote:

    I come from the mainland, love cheese, but besides Stilton I found British cheeses to be boring and tasteless. People always go on about "oh you must try a PROPER Cheddar, not the stuff they sell at the supermarket" but I never managed to get hold of this mythical item.

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  • 9. At 9:44pm on 02 Oct 2009, Rustigjongens wrote:

    I like Cheese !. My Polish Girlfriend was under the impression that the UK + Ireland only produce Cheddar......thank you Mark for prooving her wrong..!!!

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  • 10. At 10:03pm on 02 Oct 2009, OpenRoads wrote:

    You've certainly made this cheese lover's heart sing--and stomach growl. Thanks for an enjoyable article.

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  • 11. At 01:56am on 03 Oct 2009, john wrote:

    On the contrary the supermarkets ( at least one ) are championing the diversity of our cheese makers . Sainsburys are selling British Mozzarella!

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  • 12. At 02:50am on 03 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    How strange I just made vegetarian lasagna with a riccota and mozarella cheese topping. You're Good Mark.

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  • 13. At 07:49am on 03 Oct 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    In my childhood in the '50s my Belgian mother would make her own cheese from a recipe she knew from the Ardennes and add some English ingredient - - we lived in rural Surrey - - her and dad called it SurreyArd: A delicious mix of fragrances, crumbly but spreadable; us 3 kids queued for it and once a month she took us into the 'coal-shed'
    (clean bit of course) to see large round, off-whitish with dark interior (no, not coal dust!), wrapped chunks maturing. Yum-yum-yummy!

    Nothing has ever been quite the same and we 3 cannot recall the recipe!

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  • 14. At 3:35pm on 03 Oct 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    Cheesey !!
    I see there is a space in Aberdeenshire. Perhaps they will make a cheese called Donald Trump...

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  • 15. At 4:28pm on 03 Oct 2009, thawumman wrote:

    Strathdon Blue and Lanark Blue are in Scotland but not where the cheese map shows them to be made. Some very good Scottish chesses are missing, amongst them Anster, a cheddar from Fife, Orkney Farmhouse and Isle of Mull Cheddar. The Cheese map is fair - not correct placings and a lot of good cheeses missing.

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  • 16. At 4:51pm on 03 Oct 2009, stevejohnson72 wrote:

    Its great to see farmers fighting back againt the free market fundamentalists who want to see our food production go the same way as our manufacturing:overseas! I'm sure that they could find a use for all that lovely building land being wasted on food production.Long live local food!

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  • 17. At 06:54am on 04 Oct 2009, NoblesseOblige wrote:

    The best article currently on the BBC! Informative, eminently readable and enthusiastically positive. Well done, Mark, and well done all the cheesemakers of Britain (and Ms Harbutt for her work too!).

    This welcome tale of local revival and diversity does the heart more good than any political rhetoric or posturing; is better for us than trivial stuff about celebrities and much more wholesome than the constant news of impending globalisation (most recently of that other dairy product, chocolate)... and of course British cheeses (whatever your preference) are all more palatable and interesting than much of the stuff often served up! Cheers for cheese!

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  • 18. At 08:29am on 04 Oct 2009, satprof wrote:

    Bravo, Mark, for an excellent piece.

    What Real Cheese needs now is for the population to become educated to where the true listeria risks are. Great-flavoured cheese is rarely made from pasteurised milk, but a great many people are put off cheese made from unpasteurised milk because of the perception that it is somehow risky.

    Yes, such cheese does need to be correctly handled, but people have died from 'ordinary' cheese that wasn't stored correctly. In this day and age, where the concepts of the 'cold chain' & of utensil separation are well understood throughout the food industry, there is no excuse for discriminating against unpasteurised products. It's the public who are their own enemy in this area.

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  • 19. At 10:08am on 04 Oct 2009, Kaienana wrote:

    You've missed out "Collier's Socks" from Staffordshire.

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  • 20. At 10:48am on 04 Oct 2009, Bolshie Dave wrote:

    Cheese-a-licious I remember the 70s when in the local "supermarket" you had the choice of Canadian or Austrailian chedder! I for one am so glad we dont have that problem any more anyhow Im off to make a 3 cheese souflee

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  • 21. At 11:49am on 04 Oct 2009, stanilic wrote:

    At last a quality product made locally from locally sourced material! Deep joy! It just shows it can be done. We should start thinking now as to what else fits into this scenario.

    I do agree with the comments above concerning the behaviour of some of the supermarkets which still seem to prefer the blocks of plastic cheese as their standard offering. The control the supermarkets impose on food manufacturing needs to be constrained to allow the smaller specialist retailers and distributors to survive and grow.

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  • 22. At 3:25pm on 04 Oct 2009, W_Dawson wrote:

    Hooray for British cheese!

    I live in Switzerland, and most of my office colleagues from Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland just do not believe me when I tell them of the variety of great cheeses available at home. Like some of the continentals who have commented here, there is the somewhat dated view that all we have is stilton and cheddar (it reflects the also somewhat dated view they have that we still boil all our food to tasteless mush....). If you haven't found the decent cheeses yet, then you're not looking in the right places! Having said that, I imagine we've got a long way to go before cheese connoisseurship becomes the norm (although most of my friends do love their cheeses...).

    I lived in Aberdeen previously, where there is a wonderful cheesemongers in the Rosemount area. I'm sure most major towns in the UK have a cheesemongers again now, or soon will have. Long may they flourish!

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  • 23. At 5:10pm on 04 Oct 2009, U11655018 wrote:

    Wot no Wotsits?

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  • 24. At 8:46pm on 04 Oct 2009, MacScroggie wrote:

    Is this something good the EU has at last done for us ?
    They caused some milk lakes (instead of the wine variety) ?

    Viva British chease. There's nowt like it

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  • 25. At 11:20pm on 04 Oct 2009, MsAscott wrote:

    Wonderful article. Always a fan of a good bit of cheese.

    But why is Norfolk empty??

    Have you not tried Mrs Temples Cheese her soft veined Binham Blue is renowned in East Anglia. Not to mention her crumbly Walsingham, Melton Mozarella, creamy Wighton and the flavoured Gouda type Warhans. The cattle are all bred on the farm so it is REALLY local cheese.

    There are at least three other chesse makers i know of in Norfolk so please, we may be stuck out on a limb, but don't ignore us!

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  • 26. At 10:29am on 05 Oct 2009, SantaCroche wrote:

    Ahh cheese - perhaps mankind's most commendable achievement to date.

    This is one of the things that we truly share with our French neighbours. Between the two of us we have all the best cheeses in the world, maybe Spain's Manchego just about gets in to the club, but no-one else in the world comes even close to England and France when it comes to the good stuff.There's a good sociological analysis of France's cheesemaking obsession on a blog actually:

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  • 27. At 10:44am on 05 Oct 2009, MJRPEEL wrote:

    Some British cheeses are the greatest in the world. Thank heavens for the likes of the late Major Patrick Rance and the crew at Neal's Yard Diary who have put British Cheeses back on the map. A great Stilton, 2+ year old unpastuerized cheddars, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Single & Double Gloucester, Caerphilly, Cheshire, Swaledaleand many others all take some beating. Congratulations to all our chees champions, but what a pity that supermarkets are so useless with cheese. Those that try over-refrigerate it. There are far too few good cheeses shops in the UK; probably only six in London. In France there will be one or two in every small town plus the markets.

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  • 28. At 11:03am on 05 Oct 2009, AudioDuck wrote:

    Very nice info, except that on BOTH maps you have put Cheddar in either a. Devon or b. Dorset. Cheddar, as I'm sure you know (and of which we're fiercely proud) is in Somerset. In that big gorge thingy. Just below Bath and Bristol. You can't miss it...

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  • 29. At 12:51pm on 05 Oct 2009, FatPeace - A Promise to Heather wrote:

    "Britain's cheese makers have been reborn after a century of statutory persecution"

    I some how doubt that, what with cheese having been recently demonised as 'junk food' by misguided anti-obesity crusaders who believe anything containing the merest trace of fat is evil and that we should all be picking at nuts and seeds. Try including cheese into a child's packed lunch at one of the growing number of schools with 'fit lunchbox' policies, or advertising it on television - whilst the hysteria is apparently causing real damage to independent cheese makers (not to mention the health of children, who NEED some fat to grow and thrive), the Government have refused to back down even in the face of a Downing St petition demanding cheese be freed of the 'unhealthy' designation.

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  • 30. At 3:17pm on 05 Oct 2009, zombiejojo wrote:

    ditto audioduck. the map should have been checked for some vague tendency toward accuracy before inclusion. it has cheddar in Bournemouth (Dorset).
    *shakes head*

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  • 31. At 5:06pm on 05 Oct 2009, RomeStu wrote:

    Great news for cheese lovers everywhere. And hopefully we'll see less of the plastic "supermrket cheddar" and more sharp and tasty local varieties.

    BUT, given that British cheeses enjoy a global fame and reputation, essentially a brand, why are they not "protected" in the way French or Italian cheeses are with an equivalent of AOC or DOP labelling.

    If sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if made in that region of France, why not reclaim the name of Cheddar from the ghastly immitators.

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  • 32. At 9:12pm on 05 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Your kids might enjoy these for breakfast:
    Heat and soften a corn tortilla
    melt grated cheese on top and ham for carnivores
    let them add black or pinto beans, grated onion, lettuce, avocado, fresh salsa.
    Eat like a taco

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  • 33. At 9:51pm on 05 Oct 2009, johnkilmy wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 34. At 03:19am on 06 Oct 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    All great pictures and excellent topic!!!

    ~Dennis Junior~

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  • 35. At 09:01am on 06 Oct 2009, Bugar Di Fino wrote:

    Ref comment 3, that Stilton flag is in Nottinghamshire, not Derbyshire, thanks to the most excellent Colston Bassett creamery. Totally agree with the comments about Hartington, though.

    What is also regrettably missing is Colwick cheese - a local soft-cheese with a delicate taste which I understand is no longer in production.

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  • 36. At 11:57am on 06 Oct 2009, indraneelan wrote:

    Do any of you realise how disgusting cheese is? As a concept, let alone an actual substance?

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  • 37. At 12:34pm on 06 Oct 2009, teknoir wrote:

    is anything worthwhile produced food wise in HERTFORDSHIRE? i am a keen follower of regional food programmes on BBC such as the HAIRY BIKERS tour of Britain, which i must say is a joy. the duo have traveled the length of Britain but i am yet to see them cover this area. any one want to shed a light on this? there must be some thing out there i am sure (?)

    cheese wise there is nothing to beat the CHEDAR especially if it from the area.

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  • 38. At 12:43pm on 06 Oct 2009, teknoir wrote:

    indraneelan how wrong you are. it is actually good for you too let alone the great taste. not all cheeses would suite all palets but there are so many different tasty ones out there, you are bound to find a favorite.
    and the variety of things you can do in cooking is so vast.

    however a simple ploughman - pure heaven.

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  • 39. At 1:17pm on 06 Oct 2009, Welshsprout wrote:

    Sorry to throw a downer on this but you better check your geography.

    Caerphilly is way too far north.

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  • 40. At 2:09pm on 06 Oct 2009, Andrew Oakley wrote:

    Shropshire Blue seems to have moved to Nottinghamshire. Perhaps to make way for Cheshire's move south?

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  • 41. At 06:19am on 08 Oct 2009, Blurgle wrote:

    What I'd like to see happen in the UK is what's happening in other areas of the English-speaking world: the return of home cheesemaking.

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  • 42. At 9:37pm on 08 Oct 2009, DangerousDriver wrote:

    Here in Glasgow we have a great cheese specialist - Ian Mellis (no personal connection).

    Lots of info about British and foreign cheeses on his website:


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  • 43. At 09:16am on 09 Oct 2009, Iain wrote:

    The makers of this book have missed out a large number of Scottish artisan cheeses.

    These include:

    Isle of Mull
    Orkney Grimbister
    Anster (anstruther, Fife)

    Seems they haven't done their research properly north of the border.

    Also Smoked Ardrahan (Ireland) is missing.


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  • 44. At 12:08pm on 10 Oct 2009, Rousettus wrote:

    I'm particularly partial to St Illtyd cheese from Wales. Definitely recommended for anyone who would like to try a creamy Cheddar blended with garlic, herbs and wine.

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  • 45. At 11:28pm on 29 Mar 2010, swiss white wrote:

    Great article. Shropshire Blue is made in Nottinghamshire (it was never made in Shropshire, but originally in Scotland). I agree Isle of Mull Cheddar should be listed as it is one of the best.

    I actually have one of the most challenging cheese jobs as I sell British cheese in Switzerland and currently stock 42 different cheeses - the Swiss? once they stop laughing they are amazed and think nothing of buying 2 or 3 Kg's at a time. To the cheese makers of the British Isles, keep up the good work!

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