The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company – the only Cheddar made in Cheddar – preserves a thick, tasty slice of English Heritage.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, the only dairy in the village of Cheddar, Somerset, produces authentic cheese, recreating the ancient 12th century craft and tradition.
Although versions of cheddar are made today around the world, the original cheese was produced in Cheddar dating back to 1170. With the absence of refrigeration the problem of how to store surplus milk was solved by turning it into cheese. Cheesemakers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd to squeeze out the moisture, the cheese lasted much longer, transforming milk to ensure ‘the perfect food’ was available all year round.
The Cheddar Gorge features a series of caves which provided the ideal chilled environment for maturing the cheese.
This fine cheese became popular with the aristocracy and received Royal patronage. The Great Roll of the Exchequer records that in 1170 King Henry II purchased 10,240 lb (4.6 tons) of Cheddar Cheese at a farthing per pound totalling £10.13s 4d. He declared it to be the best in Britain and his son, Prince John, continued to serve Somerset cheddar cheese at banquets.
In the 19th century, Joseph Harding, a Somerset dairyman was known as “the father of Cheddar cheese” for inventing the revolving breaker for curd cutting, saving hard manual labour.
Harding believed that Cheddar cheese is “not made in the field, nor in the byre, nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy.” Joseph Harding and his wife were key pioneers in the introduction of the cheese into Scotland and North America.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, formerly a tourist shop selling fudge, sweets, cards and making “a bit of cheddar in the back room,” was taken over in 2003 by John and Katherine Spencer with entrepreneurial vision. With previous long experience in the dairy industry, they have developed their successful, independent, Artisan business through extensive research, experimentation and plenty of passion.
The cheese is hand made in the traditional way from unpasteurised raw milk delivered to the dairy each morning from one local farm, and the truckles are slowly matured, wrapped in muslin cloths.
“Using only fresh, local, unpasteurised milk, we preserve the original character of our namesake. This, we believe, is our responsibility and privilege.” John and Katherine Spencer
In 2006, the Spencers had the innovative idea to reintroduce the unique, traditional method of storing cheese in the Cheddar Gorge Caves, which has significant influence on flavour and texture – Gough’s Cave is the original, historical Cheddar Cheese larder.
The Company produces 60 tons of cheese each year. It takes about 10 litres of milk to make 1 kilogram of cheddar. In total about 333,000 tons of cheddar are produced in the UK per year.
So, now the important question, how is their authentic Cheddar Cheese made?
“All cheese is made in a similar way. It’s a process that transforms milk into curds and whey. The whey is drained and the curd remains; this curd is already ‘fresh’ cheese.
Cheddaring involves cutting, turning and stacking blocks of curd, allowing it to cool, drain further and ‘knit’ together again over a period of time.
After pressing in moulds, the whole cheeses are dressed in traditional cotton/muslin cloth before being transferred to the maturing stores. The use of cheesecloth is a vital and historical way of allowing the cheese to gradually dry and develop a rind.
Whole cheeses weigh around 26Kg and are matured slowly. Generally, the older the cheese, the stronger the flavour. Our youngest mellow cheddars are around six months old and the oldest cheddar is usually around two years old.
Now – time to sample a selection of three cheeses from the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company.
Vintage Cheddar (aged for 20 – 26 months)
“ A robust mighty strong cheese – extended maturing time resulting in a more vibrant, nutty cheddar with drier harder body” Best Cheddar at both the World and British Cheese Awards
The taste test: The slow, slow production over two years is like the finely crafted creation of a fine vintage wine. With its thin grey rind, it is certainly very hard, similar in texture to Parmesan, with a pungent, punchy strong flavour. You only need a thin slice – (so economical!) – to experience the extraordinary rich creamy taste. Marvellously, majestically mature. King Henry 11 would approve.
It’s a hearty cheese ideal for Toasted Cheese or even better, Welsh Rarebit; as they say, when the leaves fall in Autumn and Winter, the cheese melts.
Welsh Rarebit – ‘caws pobi’, which is Welsh for toasted cheese. This simple, homely dish of toasted bread covered in melted cheese and topped with mustard and spices has been popular since the 1500s – the first recorded reference was Welsh Rabbit, although it never had rabbit in it.!
A 16th-century tale tells how God asked Saint Peter to get rid of the Welsh from heaven, as they kept causing a ruckus. Saint Peter stomped outside the Pearly Gates and shouted ‘caws pobi!’, to which all the Welshmen duly tumbled out excitedly, allowing the gates to be slammed shut behind them.
As a traditional dish it has its own national day – September 3rd is Welsh Rarebit Day.
There are various recipes but this is rather tasty. “When you’re cold, tired and hungry, nothing beats this posh cheese on toast,” say the Hairy bikers.
Welsh Rarebit – serves 4.
25g butter 25g plain flour, 110 ml strong dark beer, 150 g mature Cheddar, grated, 1 free range egg yolk, 1 tsp English mustard, pinch of Cayenne pepper, 4sp Worcester sauce, 4 thick slices granary or wholemeal bread, freshly ground pepper.
Preheat the grill to high. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook over a low heat for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Slowly add the beer. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until the sauce is thick and smooth.
Add the cheese, egg yolk, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper, Stir constantly, until the cheese melts. Season with freshly ground black pepper and set aside. Place the bread on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil and toast on each side until golden-brown. Spread the cheese sauce thickly over the bread, making sure the slices are completely covered so the edges don’t burn. Return to the grill for 20-30 seconds longer until lightly browned and bubbling.
Add a fried egg for a nourishing, Cheesey feast, a Buck Rarebit.
Cave matured (aged for 12 months)
“Matured in the natural Cheddar Gorge cave, the natural environment with constant temperature and humidity provide perfect conditions. A unique, complex cheddar flavour.”
Silver Medal, British Cheese Awards, Bronze Medal, World Cheese Awards.
The taste test: Lighter in texture than the Vintage with a distinctive, slightly smoked flavour – almost crumbly like a Cheshire, but a seriously fine mature cheddar.
Serve with a selection of crisp crackers and water biscuits, slices of British apple – perhaps Cox Orange Pippen or Russet – and sweet, fruity Quince jelly. Alternatively, the classic accompaniment of chutney or pickle.
Oak Smoked Cheese (aged for 6 months)
“When we say smoking, we mean smoking! Cold smoked over smouldering oak chippings from old whisky barrels. Think bonfire night or wood burning stoves.”
Champion cheese, Devon County show, (the first time a smoked cheddar won the category). Gold, 2018 and 2019.
The taste test. Wow! is the word, this is so distinctively unique. Earthy with a hint of truffle, this is intensely smoky, like a sipping a dram of Laphroaig or Bowmore single malt from Islay, with a subtle seaweed saltiness. The oak chippings from the whisky barrels have done their work brilliantly.
To some astute or sensitive palates, the strength of smokiness is also reminiscent of smoked fish such as salmon or kippers.
Enjoy a slither or two with chunky bread or crackers; With the complex layer of flavours, this would also jazz up a Wild Mushroom or Butternut Squash Risotto which often have the addition, respectively, of Parmesan and Gorgonzola. Just sprinkle this delectable cheese on top of these dishes would add the perfect, rich, smoky creaminess.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is also renowned for their Cheese Straws. These are handmade with puff pastry and mature cheddar.
Best to warm in the oven for a few minutes although they can be nibbled cold. Stuffed with 37% of cheddar in each straw, these are seriously cheesy and crispy. Like a Ploughman’s Lunch baked as a thick, flaky biscuit. The rich buttery texture is amazing.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. certainly do preserve a thick, tasty slice and slab of English Heritage with their high quality, traditional Cheddar Cheese.
Visit the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co. Shop in Cheddar, Somerset where you can taste samples of the complete range including Mellow, Extra Mature, Vintage, Cave Matured, Oak Smoked and Herb, Cider and Port flavours
Purchase cheese, pickles and preserves, cheese straws, savoury biscuits and crackers as well as pottery, cheeseboards and cheese knives.
“Cheese your Bundle” – choose your choice of three or six portions of Cheddar from the wide range. Christmas and corporate gifts, hampers and selection packs of cheese and accompaniments.
The Visitor Centre – Small groups are welcome by appointment to watch the cheesemakers at work on a 30 minute tour which also features a film showing the complete process.
Browse the website for all information on produce, visiting the shop and on line purchase.
Online mail order: efficient, eco-friendly next day delivery.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co.
The Cliffs, Cheddar, Somerset, BS27 3QA
Tel. 01934 742810
Cheddar Gorge Cheese is also available at a wide selection of Farm shops and Delis around the country, including:
Riches Cider – Highbridge, Somerset, Whiterow Farm Shop – Frome, Wiltshire, Owtons At Country Market – near Haslemere in Hampshire, Village Larder – Washington, West Sussex, Allington Farm Shop – Chippenham, Wiltshire, Royal Windsor Farm Shop – Windsor, A F Blakemore & Sons – Darlaston (Nr Wolverhampton), Cobbs of Engleford – Theale, Reading, Berkshire, Brace of Butchers – Dorchester, Darts Farm Shop – Topsham, Exeter, Devon