May Cheese of the Month - Appleby's Cheshire

Appleby’s Cheshire is tasting particularly good this month.

The cheese is handmade by the third generation of the Appleby family, using unpasteurised milk from their own herd of Friesian cows.

A small amount of natural vegetable dye is added to give its distinctive salmon peach colour. After pressing the cheese is cloth-wrapped to allow it to breathe, and matured for at least six weeks, or longer for the larger cheeses.

Appleby’s Cheshire has a balance of rich mineral flavours and acidity with clean, mellow notes. It is open-textured, crumbly but not overly dry. As it matures the flavour becomes more savoury and herbal with a long mouth-watering finish. Our Appleby's Cheshire comes to us from Neal's Yard Dairy and is about four months old by the time it reaches us.

Appleby's will be available for tasting during May so do come in and try some

The history of Appleby’s Cheshire

Cheshire is reputedly one of the oldest cheeses recorded in England, mentioned in the Domesday Book and possibly made by Celts before the Romans arrived. Before the Second World War, over 60% of all cheese sold in this country was Cheshire. This all changed with the strict regulations brought in by the Milk Marketing Board, which required fast setting, drier, waxed cheeses. These were sold by the Board to supermarkets with no trace of their provenance. This led to the crumbly packs of factory-produced cheese that give Cheshire a bad reputation to this day.

However, one cheesemaker bucked this pressure and cut her links to the Milk Marketing Board to continue making traditional Cheshire with unpasteurised milk, just as she had learned as a young girl in the 1930s from her mother and grandmother who were cheesemakers before her.

Lucy Appleby and her husband, Lance, bought Hawskstone Abbey Farm in North Shropshire in 1942 just after they were married and started making cheese in 1952. Thirty years later the pressure from supermarkets was too much and together with their son and his wife they decided to go it alone and start selling direct to their customers, buying a van to drive their cheese around the country.


In 2003, Lucy and Lance were both awarded MBEs for the work they had done to keep British farmhouse cheesemaking alive. Lucy died in 2008, aged 88, and today the business is led by her grandson and his wife, Paul and Sarah Appleby. Sarah has recently begun making hand churned whey butter, much like Lucy once did.

What is special about Appleby’s Cheshire

The unique quality of Cheshire cheese is said to come from the unusually high salt content found in the milk of the cows that graze in the area. At the Appleby’s farm, in the Dee Valley, near Whitchurch, their herd of Friesians are on traditional grassland pastures on soil rich in salt deposits.

The milk goes straight from milking parlour to dairy, where cheesemaker, Garry Gray, adds a starter culture, rennet, salt and annatto, the vegetable colouring which gives the cheese it’s distinctive peach hue. Garry’s years of experience mean he regularly adjusts the process for seasonal variations in the milk, or temperature and humidity. He scalds and stirs the milk until just the right level of acidity is reached. The whey is then drained off and is once again being hand churned into whey butter by Sarah Appleby, just as Lucy had done in the past.

The cheese is cut into blocks, salt is added and the curd put through a mill and into calico lined moulds. After resting, the moulds are topped with spare curd, then put in a traditional screw press for the rest of the day. The process is repeated the next day and the edges trimmed and sealed with an iron before being bound in calico moulds and turned daily until they are ready to eat.

To learn more about how Appleby’s Cheshire is made watch the short film below, produced by Neal’s Yard.  

Pairing

Appleby’s Cheshire pairs well with acidic fruit such as green apples and strawberries. It is also good with figs and dates where the cheese’s acidity counteracts the sweetness of the fruit.

It is, of course, great in a classic Ploughman’s Lunch.

Appleby’s website has a number of recipes to make with Appleby's cheese >

Drinks

Drinks writer, Fiona Beckett, recommends medium-to-full bodied red wines such as southern Rhone and Langudedoc or inexpensive Bordeaux or Rioja. She also suggests vintage port (less sweet than younger ones) or a nutty amontillado sherry.

Pale Ales or other dark bitters work well too.

To read Fiona’s Top Beer & Wine Pairings for Cheshire Cheese visit her website Matching Food & Drink >

Finally, according to Patricia Michelson, founder of La Fromagerie and author of Cheese, The World’s Best Artisan Cheeses “is also a surprising match for the lighter, sweet styles of single malt whisky.”