Or, more specifically, Farmhouse Cheshire Cheese.

As well as slicing up lots of dead pigs every week, the other major food item my parents sold on their market stall was cheese.

Now for some reason, the tradition in my part of Yorkshire – the West Riding – was, along with haddock not cod, rolled bacon not flat, to have Cheshire Cheese. One would have thought that Wensleydale would have been the cheese of choice, but no, Cheshire was the must-have cheese.

Along with the premium bacon that we sold, the cheese was equally expensive and top quality.

We didn’t have prices up (apart from the cheap bits of shoulder mentioned back on the bacon post) mainly because the price often fluctuated anyway from week to week.

When someone came and asked how much, and walked away, I always felt crestfallen. It was a kick in the teeth that someone thought we were charging too much. When I see what people pay now for sheer garbage, I wonder what incomes people were on back then.

But back to the cheese. They came in cylindrical form, well, cheeses really, weighing around 50-55 pounds. Occasionally they were less than 50 and were easier to carry. The 55s were seriously heavy. To young teenage me anyway.

Their designation as Farmhouse was a bit like chateau-bottled wine. Well, more or less. They had to be made on the farm where the milk came from rather than the milk being transported to a factory. Not much difference in reality as it was basically a mini-factory on the farm. And the farm had to be approved. Each one had a number.

We bought our cheese from Emberton Brothers based in Crewe, an old-established Cheshire business. Probably started at a similar time to our bacon stall business back in the early 1920s.

If my father was in charge of buying the bacon, my mother managed the cheese side of the business. Every couple of weeks she would ring up to order whatever we wanted to see us through.

One week, one of the drivers came down our yard and was chatting saying that we were one of the biggest cheese customers they had – we ordered more than Leeds’ famous department store – Schofields. Maybe, because we only sold one type of cheese.

It was easy to tell the better cheeses. Cheshire cheese should be extremely dry and crumbly, slightly salty, and not heavy and solid. But – not too dry that it falls apart when you cut it. Customers did not want a heap of bits, even if they ended up grating it afterwards. We could have made a fortune selling pre-wrapped crumbs, seeing that people buy grated cheese nowadays.

There were two types of wrapping a cheese. One was in cheesecloth with a light waxing around, and the other was without the wax, the more traditional way.

Now, I am all for traditional ways of making and preserving food but the blunt truth is that, clothing cheese without wax just ensured a heavy cheese with an extremely thick skin/crust. And, customers did not like skin/crust. They would ask for it to be cut off because they didn’t want to pay for something they couldn’t eat.

Flavour? Maybe slightly stronger than some of the waxed cheesecloth cheeses, but texture could be variable. Sometimes superb cheese, but if it won’t sell …. I see Applebys, the one we would sometimes end up with, (not through choice), is commanding a fine price and self-marketing rather well. Link at the end.

Sometimes we complained to Embertons – later Dairy Crest, a subsidiary of the Milk Marketing Board – that some of the cheeses were below standard. Not only was the consistency poor, (varied depending on the period of year), but there was mould in it. This could either come from the outside or from a badly handled seal when the cheese was tested for maturity with a sort of scoop thing.

Cheshire may have a bit of blue mold inside. It is entirely natural and complements its flavor nicely.

Er, someone should have told our customers that, because they certainly didn’t want mouldy bits. Some bright spark on the other end of the ‘phone suggested we ask for the cheeses from the farms we preferred. Life went swimmingly after that. No longer did we get random cheese but the pick of the best. In fact at that point we were invited to visit one of our fave farms – which we did. Maybe number 55?

We opened our cheeses in a traditional fashion. In the morning, I would commandeer a stall next to us, and open the cheeses on there – carefully cleaning up afterwards as the poor dear sold clothes, so wouldn’t really want cheesy bits all over them.

I ripped off the wax and cheesecloth, and then took a narrow cut diametrically across the top. Then, I followed that down on either side, again very narrowly. The difficult bit was using the cheese steel. I usually used five, sometimes even seven insertions on the horiontal line to try and get the leverage. Once the steel holes had been made, I turned the cheese upside down, and hopefully connected with the top holes.

In theory, and most times, in practice, the cheese broke in half, with a totally crumbly texture.

One of the salespersons for the cheese firm visited the stall and asked us to go to some display on a Sunday because he’d never seen it before and thought it was wonderful, plus there was the crappy happy family inter-action. No money in it. We didn’t go.

Back to the cheese. We now have two halves.

They then get split with a cheese knife, hopefully fairly straight down the middle. Each quarter then gets wired in four (or three if it was a small cheese). That was the only time we ever used a cheese wire. Everything else was done with a knife.

The quarters weren’t cut equally however. Remember the crust that people don’t like? Even on a waxed/cheeseclothed cheese there was still a slight crust, so the top and bottom were wired deeper so that people didn’t have too much of it (shallower cut equalled more crust). Favourite customers who ordered a pound or more always got their piece of cheese from the middle (less crust/skin). Hey? Do you look after your good customers or what?

As with the bacon, some customers were savvy enough to ask us for whichever cheese we recommended. Although we only sold Cheshire, we sold white and coloured cheese.

‘The white one’s made with Ayrshire milk and the coloured one’s made with Guernsey,’ sang my father merrily. It was ages before he told me what a total lie that was and that the coloured cheese had colouring added. Oh, well.

Oddly, the two cheeses did taste different. The coloured one would often taste slightly drier.

There was/is a blue version that we never sold.

Wiki seems to think Cheshire is Britain’s oldest cheese.

And, get this:

Sales of Cheshire cheese peaked at around 40,000ย tonnes in 1960, subsequently declining as the range of cheeses available in the UK grew considerably. Cheshire cheese remains the UK’s largest-selling crumbly cheese, with sales of around 6,500ย tonnes per year.

Hmm, that one might explain why my parents sold loads of it, obviously popular back in the late 50s/early 60s. And why sales started to tail off.

Cheshire cheese is dense and semi-hard, and is defined by its moist, crumbly texture and mild, salty taste. Industrial versions tend to be drier and less crumbly, more like a mild Cheddar cheese, as this makes them easier to process than cheese with the traditional texture. The Cheshire family of cheeses is a distinct group that includes other crumbly cheeses from the North of England such as Wensleydale and Lancashire cheese.
Cheshire cheese comes in three varieties: red, white and blue. The original plain white version accounts for the majority of production.
Red Cheshire, coloured with annatto to a shade of deep orange, was developed in the hills of North Wales and sold to travellers on the road to Holyhead. This trade was so successful that the travellers came to believe that all Cheshire cheese was orange, and producers in its home county were obliged to dye their cheese in order to match the expectations of the market.
Blue Cheshire has blue veins like Stilton or Shropshire blue, but is less creamy than Stilton and is not coloured orange as Shropshire Blue is. It has a long history, but production ceased in the late 1980s. Recently it has been revived by several manufacturers.

Actually there was a coloured (ie orange) version of the blue.

If my father was happy to wax lyrical about the different milks I was phased when I was asked if our cheese was vegetarian.

Of course, I replied, ‘It’s cheese isn’t it?’ Not surprisingly they didn’t buy. I was puzzled what I had said wrong as they walked away. I cringe now.

Cheese is invariably set with animal rennet. Although I see current Cheshire producers advertise their vegetarian rennet. Very good. (If you don’t mind the dairy industry set-up).

And the explanation about animal rennet is ….. (wiki might as well do it for me)

Production of natural calf rennet
Natural calf rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of slaughtered young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production. If rennet is extracted from older calves (grass-fed or grain-fed) the rennet contains less or no chymosin but a high level of pepsin and can only be used for special types of milk and cheeses. As each ruminant produces a special kind of rennet to digest the milk of its own species, there are milk-specific rennets available, such as kid goat rennet for goat’s milk and lamb rennet for sheep’s milk.

That’s good, could be either dead cows, veal, lamb or goat entrails in your cheese ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Traditional method
Dried and cleaned stomachs of young calves are sliced into small pieces and then put into saltwater or whey, together with some vinegar or wine to lower the pH of the solution. After some time (overnight or several days), the solution is filtered. The crude rennet that remains in the filtered solution can then be used to coagulate milk. About 1ย gram of this solution can normally coagulate 2 to 4 liters of milk.
This method is still used by some traditional cheese-makers, e.g. in Switzerland, Greece, France, Romania, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom and Alp-Sennereien in Austria.

Modern method
Deep-frozen stomachs are milled and put into an enzyme-extracting solution. The crude rennet extract is then activated by adding acid; the enzymes in the stomach are produced in an inactive form and are activated by the stomach acid. The acid is then neutralized and the rennet extract is filtered in several stages and concentrated until reaching a typical potency of about 1:15,000; meaning 1ย gram of extract can coagulate 15 kg (15 litres) of milk.

That sounds most cost-effective. What a good idea.

The first piece of cheese I ever cut, my mother gave away. Great PR. And not stupid either, it was only 4ozs. But it was to a regular customer. And the truth is, whether people buy 4ozs of cheese or 1lb, you want regular customers.

Cutting cheese with a hard cheese knife is not easy. At the end of the day your hand hurts. When someone asks for a quarter or half a pound of cheese and you cut half an ounce over they can get annoyed. All about the money I guess. But it wasn’t deliberate. Sometimes the knife didn’t want to work right!! I have since bought cheese and they couldn’t get it right within two ounces.

Christmas time was our busiest period. We would have seven or eight cheeses ready to open all piled up with their Farmhouse Cheshire Cheese sticker on them, and in the morning, I would open at least three, because we would sell the cheese so quickly, ie 150 lbs of cheese gone in a couple of hours. There were times when my father had to drive home to bring extra supplies because we had been busier than expected. At Christmas the business started not long after 7am, and queues were forming around the stall and into the street by 8am. Customers were very patient in those days and nobody complained about waiting. But apart from the bacon and ham, what people really wanted at Christmas was the cheese – to go with Christmas cake. I have never understood this strange fixation, and never will. It’s a Yorkshire thing. And it made good money on Christmas Eve, so why complain?

We normally had 2lb scales as they were enough for usual orders. At Christmas we took these scales (pic below) because there was a lever to flip them over to a capacity of 4lbs. Yes, people did buy three and four pounds of cheese at Christmas.

After cutting hundreds of pounds of cheese on Christmas Eve, my hand had a huge groove in it, was incredibly tender and later would form a callous over the next few days. But still, it was always the best day of the year, for fun, for money, for general goodwill and happiness.

I’d still take my chances with my knife over someone with a cheesewire to cut cheese accurately. And I could open a 50+lb cheese today in a few minutes. If there are any left.

Before my father sold his business, he had thought about changing and diversifying the cheese market. He chose not to. I think he made the right decision given he was more interested in retirement. Some things were best left as they were.

Some links about cheese:

I couldn’t find a pic anywhere of cheese opened the way we used to do it, sorry about that. I can’t even find pix of 50lb Cheshire cheeses, they are all tiny ones.

Link to a coloured cheese showing the crust on and skin on the outside, all of which most people do NOT want to eat, and years back refused to pay for

Farmer’s Guardian wittering on about Farmhouse Cheese and missing the point

A general Cheshire linky

Includes an article from the Guardian that spouts some total garbage×500/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/2/2/229__orig.jpg&imgrefurl=

Another ill-informed article … there seem to be a lot, although this one does point out the difference between fine and superfine. I had forgotten that. We bought superfine and sulked if we were sent fine.

A new Cheshire cheesemaker

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in childhood, consumerism, food, life, musings, photography, thoughts, vegetarian and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Cheese

  1. That’s a really interesting post. I adore Cheshire cheese..but I love a nice wedge of slightly wet Wensleydale with my Christmas cake. People down here look at me aghast when I explain that it’s a heavenly combination. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Have you tried it?


    • A good description of the differences between the cheeses *puts on boring cheese hat* – Wensleydale is slightly wetter, but a very similar taste.

      Yes, I have tried it. Once only. Seriously disliked it ๐Ÿ˜€


  2. prosemachine says:

    Excellent article. I have never read such a detailed post about cheese. I feel like you fed me the entire time I was reading yet I’m still hungry.. What gives? ๐Ÿ˜‰


    • Thanks prosemachine.

      This was one British cheese alone. I had to cut myself short – I could have written far more!! Probably not helped by the fact that Cheshire cheese has so much history. And so much a part of my history.

      Have to say, when I had finished writing, I quickly ran to make some garlicky cheesy potatoes. Not cheshire, but cooking so who cares (organic cheddar for accuracy).

      I’m guessing the way we sold cheese no longer happens, so it’s a part of the past but one worth recording.

      Go make some cheese on toast!


  3. cobbies69 says:

    Although i like Cheshire my most favourite is very strong cheddar, probably same as millions of others, but it is my taste, and cheese cloth reminds of the colourful shirts we used to wear. I particularly remember a red one and a nice green one. I wonder if you remember… You make cheese an interesting topic. ‘)


    • Yeah, Cheddar is the most popular. I don’t think I have ever had a ‘decent’ one, the nearest I get to it is buying organic in square shapes occasionally. I would imagine a good farmhouse one tastes a lot better than the factory-produced blocks.

      I do remember cheesecloth shirts. Mainly because my mother wouldn’t let me have one. Must have thought they were too hippy!


  4. Vicky says:

    A great read ๐Ÿ™‚
    I love Wensleydale with cranberries, probably a modern day invention, but it is on the same lines as cheese and a fruity christmas cake, mmmm, something else I love.
    I never realised about the rennet until Debs asked me if the cheese I’d bought was veggie, I looked at her totally puzzled, until she explained. Urgh! her description wasn’t quite so detailed as yours.
    I do admit to checking for the veggie symbol nowadays.


    • Ta V. I’m not really into mucked about cheese! ie with bits of fruit in or whatever. Might as well have a decent cheese and some fruit with it, eg grapes, or with some celery – which I think is a good combination.

      I don’t think the rennet is something most of us think about. I mean you actually don’t expect bits of animal stomach to be used in making cheese do you? I just thought it was milk when I was a naive young person. They put all sorts of junk in it in Spain, including egg. Egg? In cheese? Needless to state I’ve yet to see a vegetarian sticker on a Spanish cheese. The only thing I would buy was a mozzarella with a V sticker but the supermarket that stocked it has stopped. So we are cheese free when in Spain ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. EllaDee says:

    I read about rennet I think in Gina Mallet’s Last Chance to Eat – in that animal derived rennet is just about money, but what isn’t? :(. Prior to that though I learnt you can make rennet from Scotch Thistle when I watched, which appeals to me so much more, as does taking the time to search out vege rennet cheeses.
    I did enjoy reading how your family’s vocational history – it’s interesting how we absorb our family heritage until it becomes instinctive… my Dad was a mechanic and similar to you I spent a lot of time in his workplaces.
    I think I’d like a bit of Wensleydale with my Christmas Cake, and I’m pretty sure my Dad would join me, as we have similar tastes.
    I thnk it’s wonderful you have the scales in your kitchen ๐Ÿ™‚


    • I would say it is about money too, mainly in using up as much of a slaughtered animal as possible in order to maximise the profit eg sell the meat, sell the hide for leather, use the stomach for rennet, sell the feet (pig’s trotters yuk) – and feed sheep on brains etc. Is that the sort of view in Gina Mallet’s book or was there a different perspective?

      I’ll have a look at the poached pear thing, sounds interesting! There are far more veg rennet cheeses these days, especially some of the smaller newer producers who have set up in the UK. I was surprised when I was checking on the current state of play regarding Cheshire cheese production that any of the ones I looked up on the internet absolutely flaunted their vegetarian rennet!! Not just that but they boasted their gluten free, nut free, everything else free credentials. Amazing how savvy people have become. Have to say if I was selling cheese now I would have that information in big bold print right next to the cheese, and probably more eg what the milk was and which farm it came from, although we sometimes did tell customers which farmer’s cheese we were selling that particular week. It’s interesting how a lot of consumers/customers have become more informed about what they buy. And yet, others still buy the same old crap regardless of what is in it or where it comes from.

      I’ve got some in the sitting room too ๐Ÿ˜€ They are brass ones, and were used for weighing toffee – my dad’s mother sold toffee at the market, so I have the flat pan scales, the hammer and some little brass weights. Piccy at some point.


      • EllaDee says:

        I enjoyed the Gourmet Farmer series (where the clip is from). Matthew Evans is aiming to live and farm sustainably.
        You’ve summed up pretty much what Gina Mallett says about the animal rennet.
        I believe conscientous consumers will change they world via their spending. Money is god.


        • It was a fascinating clip. And while I’m not into ready-made food (currently making a broccoli soup instead of opening a tin/carton) even I flinched at that one. And as for faffing around with the cheese and the fat hen – just for a dessert?!!!! The cheese looked beautiful though, and not that difficult to make apart from creating the rennet, ie a faff. I think living and farming sustainably is great – except a) we all have different ideas about what that means b) it isn’t possible for a huge percentage of the population and c) it’s a bit of a trendy middle class hippy idea. (I know because I’ve had it for ages).
          The rennet comment (ie GM) was a total guess. I looked her up briefly before, but all I found was a quick Amazon ad for her book so I never got to read about it in depth.
          The trouble is, there aren’t enough conscientious consumers.


          • EllaDee says:

            I’m hoping things will improve. As has been commented, consumers are starting to look for vege options. I know progress and change is slow but awareness is growing.


          • I admire your optimism. I’m stuck in a past discussion with an IT colleague who was dutifully eating her five pieces of fruit a day and questioned why anyone would pay extra for organic food as it all tasted the same. She looked at me as though I was truly certifiable when I started to explain why and that cheap was not always best and why I looked for country of origin and blah blah. Truth is, most people think like that ๐Ÿ˜ฆ People are sooooo selfish. Maybe it’s an age thing ๐Ÿ˜€


          • EllaDee says:

            Yep… I’ve given up preaching at the misinformed & disinterested, and just live by my own philosophies. But, if I’m asked for my opinion, thoughts, then I’ll share what I believe ๐Ÿ™‚


          • I suppose I am still preaching to some extent – at least on here, in the hopes that someone, somewhere, might at least question their (lack of) values.


          • EllaDee says:

            Works on me… I’ve been examining and trying to polish mine ๐Ÿ™‚


          • ๐Ÿ˜€ I merely throw up posts for information, discussion, and occasionally because I even believe in what I am writing ๐Ÿ˜‰


  6. That’ a really good story! When I was a boy my grandparents who lived in Leicester always had Leicester cheese and they kept it in a sort of ceramic pot that was shaped like a country cottage with a thatched roof. It is probably just my fading memory but Leicester cheese tasted better then. After living in Richmond and visiting the Wensleydale factory so often it replaced red Leicester as my favourite.
    Not sure if you eat cheese now? If so how do you thing an English cheese compares with Spanish?
    In 1977 I had some French people come to stay and I prepared a cheese board – I don’t suppose it was very imaginative. Charles (my French guest) tried them all and declared them to all taste the same – I remember feeling patriotically insulted. The following year we went to France and he introduced me to a Gallic cheeseboard and I have to say that I saw straight away the point he was trying to make!
    This post ticks all the FP boxes in my opinion!


    • Thanks. I felt like one of those OAPs interviewed on Radio 4 describing how it were all so different when I were a lass. Truth is, it was. As you know.
      I’ve never had any really decent Leicester cheese, always seems to taste rubbery to me. But I’m not into plastic packed cheeses and that’s mostly what you get these days, unless you go to a specialist shop (which doesn’t exist in Gib). I do think Wensleydale is a top cheese, probably because it is so similar to cheshire, although not quite as dry. I like Lancashire because it is the same type too.
      I rarely eat cheese (it’s a dairy industry cruelty thing), and I don’t buy it, so it only appears in the fridge when my partner buys it. There are some extremely good Spanish cheeses, and not just the endlessly touted Manchego. The trouble, is, the Spanish are crap on labelling what they are selling unless it is in plastic. So if you get it cut fresh you have no idea what is in it, and it gripes me some of the sheer unnecessary crap they throw into cheese. And I have yet to find one labelled vegetarian. Probably available in Madrid or Barcelona. The fresh goats cheeses are good, and I have bought some made just up the road, but it probably still had animal rennet ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
      How do they compare? Different is all I can say. I used to like Italian cheese too.
      Cheese boards back in the 70s – at our home they were, inevitably Cheshire, usually camembert, blue stilton or danish blue, (I think roquefort was tried once and dismissed as too strong), and maybe cheddar or wensleydale.
      Thanks for the FP verdict, an authentic cheese pic might have helped – but not to be found on tinties and I doubt we have one, although somewhere there used to be an old postcard-style pic of one of the markets we visited.


  7. I know no one involved in cheese production/industry – so this is pretty fascinating. Do you think there are those who make farm house cheese and sell it as “vintage/craft”? Big industry has taken so much away.
    Agree on knife over wire for slicing. Mom always insisted on wire. UGH
    Think I will wander off for some cheese toast, now


    • It may be called craft, artisan or specialist. I’ve lost touch. Back then, it was a pretty easy separation. There was factory made cheese, and cheese made on the farm (using the same process though :D).

      Big industry has a lot to answer for. As do health and hygiene regulations. I would have hated to have served the food wearing latex gloves or whatever shop staff wear now to ensure that no dirty bacteria get on the food. Obsessive IMO.

      It’s all about different techniques isn’t it? Is newer better? Not necessarily. Nothing wrong with a good cheese knife (blunt of course) but if people want to use wires, that’s their choice. Hope the cheese toast was good…


      • So cheesy around here.
        Don’t have much experience with dairy/cheese as it’s beef cattle grazing mostly around here. That’s why it was an interesting post of a totally different way of life.
        Big industry farms and gov. regualtions have really changed things. Back in the 60’s there was a small movement to turn back time – it’s been curious to see it happening again recently – must be a cycle…but big farm is probably dominate forever now. Despite the fact that there is such a thing as “street immunity” – if you grow up in an environment all clean and pristine all the time, the body doesn’t develop the ability to defend itself.


        • I think that’s one of the huge differences between UK farming and US farming. Ours is largely intensive. The only grazing tends – or tended – to be sheep on the hills.
          You do/did see loose cows

          but the dairy industry is still intensive by (financial) design.

          Big farms are just another symptom of big business/industry. It will take more than a few small individual farmers to change anything while the customer demands (or maybe has no choice) cheap in everything they buy.

          There was a study some years ago about how kids growing up in dirty houses were healthier ๐Ÿ˜€


  8. bluonthemove says:

    I was in Tesco the other day, and got some low salt Kallo original organic chicken stock cubes as they were marked down to 85p a pack. They had veggie ones at the same price, but I left them for you!!

    I love really good strong british cheeses, cheddar, cheshire, stilton, wensleydale to name just a few. In the main eaten as they come, but sometimes used in cooking. Can’t help thinking being brought up with bacon and cheese was probably more rounding than anti-depressants and rooms with padded walls.


    • That’s a pretty good price, and thanks for leaving the veg ones, low salt version I hope. They are around the ยฃ1.20 mark here in Gib at Morries. Well, they would be if they had any. I am going to have to brave Holland and Barrett.

      Did you check the packaging on your chicken ones? I’ve never read the ingredients on the chicken ones.

      I think British cheeses, especially the ones you have mentioned are good. And – I actually did like Lymeswold. I think unless people really know what they are talking about with cheese, it is easy to get sucked into popular views one way or the other. What is the difference between buying a British factory made cheese wrapped in plastic and a French/German/Italian one? Anyway, that it is a different issue.

      I think anything would be more rounding than anti-depressants, probably even national service (although you might need the SSRIs after that).


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