When it comes to a long history of cheese-making, Yorkshire certainly has one: following the Norman invasion in 1066, many French Cistercian monks came over to set up the huge monastic estates which have dominated the Yorkshire dales for centuries (famous abbeys such as Jervaulx, Fountains and Bolton). The monks also brought cheese making techniques, which they put to good use making firm, crumbly cheeses throughout the dales: Nidderdale, Wensleydale, Teesdale, Swaledale and Coverdale, each similar to the others. These Yorkshire cheeses were often made from sheep’s milk, firm and loose textured with a moistness and rich blue marbling, tasting, apparently, “finer than Stilton”.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, cheese making continued in Yorkshire, with production moving to the farms as recipes were passed on to farmers’ wives. With time these cheeses began to change, farmers started to farm cows, and advances in cheese-making, coupled with a desire to make consistent, recognisable cheeses, meant the dales cheeses became firmer, drier and sharper – like the crumbly, white Wensleydale we know today.
This move towards producing consistent, white, crumbly cheese unfortunately came at the expense of farmhouse cheese making in Yorkshire (the last farmhouse production of Wensleydale ceased in 1957). Unlike the countryside of the south-west that is perfect for grazing cows, the inconvenient dales and associated rolling hills up north meant that many Yorkshire farmers switched from dairy to sheep and beef-cattle farming – which doesn’t involve having to get the herds back to a parlour to be milked twice a day.
There are now a growing number of Yorkshire cheese-makers who make a range of cheeses with milk from their herds, one being Shepherds Purse near Thirsk, They have recently marked their 25th anniversary year with two gold stars at the Great Taste Awards. Their range includes Harrogate Blue and Yorkshire Blue through to Fine Fettle (a Feta style).
Cheese tasting soon so watch this space!!