Or, as everyone calls it, “Mrs Appleby’s Cheshire.” For it was Lucy Appleby, who has passed away at 88, who revitalised, and secured a place for a piece of cultural history. Indirectly she was also responsible for me getting into cheese seriously, as Appleby’s was probably the first artisan cheese I sampled. Before the Second World War, Cheshire cheese accounted for 60% of all cheese sold in the UK and some 1200 farms produced it. Post World War 11, this had been reduced to 50, and by the 1960’s Cheddar had eclipsed Cheshire as the nation’s favourite. At one time all farms produced unwaxed, cloth-bound Cheshire cheeses from their own unpasturised milk; now Appleby's alone keeps this tradition alive.
Wax binding was just becoming fashionable when Lucy Appleby began cheesemaking, but she refused to have anything to do with it, on the grounds that the proper ripening and flavour of the cheese depended on its ability to breathe. Cheshire is made of morning milk mixed with that of the previous evening. After renneting the junket or curd is cut in both directions into small cubes, stirred, scalded and milled. It is cured in a warm room, pressed and turned each morning into a dry cloth. Appleby’s introduce a very small amount of starter into the milk at the beginning of the process and some say that’s what protects Appleby's from the over-acidity that mars some other Cheshire cheeses. It is generally coloured with a tasteless annatto because the tinted variety is thought to be more popular, in both the south and the north-east of England, than white.
And what does good Cheshire taste like? Well, Cheshire cheese is unmistakable in its piquant flavour; the texture should be firm and crumbly, but never dry. The unique quality of Cheshire is said, with good reason, to emanate from the pasturage over the heavy salt deposits underlying the area of the Cheshire/Shropshire border, around Whitchurch and Nantwich. The grazing Friesians absorb these flavours and it is replicated in their milk.
Cheshire is the oldest recorded British cheese and is perfect for toasting, or just enjoying with a pint of real ale. Why not try some today?