It used to be that when you thought of cheese, the first country to spring to mind would be France, with their variety of amazing cheeses and the culture (no pun intended) that surrounds them. France has some absolutely fantastic cheeses, some have even played a part in the country's history and we love French cheese but we're here to champion the thriving cheesemaking industry of the British Isles.
Cheesemaking in Britain isn't a new thing, Cheshire cheese is mentioned in the Domesday book of the 11th century and is believed to be Britains oldest cheese, but it's only in the last 20 or 30 years that Britain is really starting to carve a name for itself as a country that produces excellent cheese with hundreds of artisan cheesemakers producing classic cheeses, variations of classic cheeses and some really innovative new cheeses.
We love to unearth small British cheesemakers and give their cheeses the recognition they deserve and expose them to a wider audience as there are some real beauties that every cheese lover should try. We can't possibly list them all here but we've picked a few of our favourites from around the country.
The many different regions of England produce a variety of different cheeses where climate, farming methods, historical influences and more all play a part in the cheesemaking process and produce their own unique textures and tastes. From the classic English territorials such as cheddar, where Keens, Montgomery's and Quickes are fabulous examples, Cheshires, Lancashires, Wensleydales and more through to modern variations of those such as Lincolnshire Poacher, Cornish Yarg and Winterdale Shaw the list of great traditional English cheeses is endless.
There are more modern cheeses that are pushing the boundaries of artisan cheesemaking such as Rollright, an English version of Reblochon, Oxford Isis, a take on the French smelly classic Epoisses and some stunning goats cheeses such as Tor and Cerney Ash which are modelled on another French classic, Valencay. One of our favourites is Baron Bigod, a stunning, raw milk brie from Suffolk.
We've not even mentioned the blue cheeses yet of which there are multiple award winners. Bath Blue has been World Champion, Beauvale is a cross between Stilton and a creamy Gorgonzola, and Isle of Wight Blue is an absolutely beautiful small blue, again an award winner. We can't talk about English blue cheese without a mention for Stilton, of which one of our favourites is Colston Bassett Stilton.
This is but a taste of what English cheeses are out there but there are many more available to buy in our online cheese shop.
Scotland has a long history of cheesemaking with similar styles to England but landscape and weather producing some very different results. There are a number of cheddar style cheeses such as Dunlop, Isle of Mull and Arran, all of which are a little more moist than a typical Somerset cheddar and generally matured for less time although Isle of Mull can be matured for longer.
There are some beautiful blue cheeses made in Scotland, two notably by Errington Cheese - Lanark Blue and Dunsyre Blue, both made with unpasteurised milk must be tried. One of our favourites is Strathdon Blue, a peppery blue from Ross-shire that has a similar look and feel to a Roquefort but a very different flavour. There's also a small amount of blue made on the Isle of Arran and takes it's name from the island. It's moist and creamy with a mellow flavour, very much like the French Bleu d'Auvergne.
Scotland also has some unique cheese of it's very own such as Caboc, Scotland's oldest cheese which is a soft, creamy, buttery cheese, rolled in oats and the similar Crowdie, which has a peppery coating. The Westray Wife is also worth a try. Made in the most northerly creamery in the UK, in a Swiss Appenzeller style it is Scotland's only cutting size washed rind cheese.
Wales is associated with Caerphilly cheese, although these days most of the finest Caerphilly, such as Gorwydd Caerphilly, is made in Somerset, but there is much more to Welsh cheeses than just Caerphilly.
Black Bomber is a hugely popular extra-mature cheddar from Snowdonia. Wonderful depth of flavour and creamy texture, Black Bomber is often overlooked for the more traditional Somerset cheddars but for taste alone it fully justifies it's inclusion in this list.
From West Wales we have Perl Las and Perl Wen by Caws organic cheesemakers. Perl Las is a beautiful salty-sweet blue with a creamy texture that makes it hard to stop nibbling once you've started. Perl Wen is a rich and creamy, brie style cheese with light mushroomy flavour that doesn't overpower. Both are excellent cheeses.
Other notable Welsh cheeses are Teifi Mature, a hard Gouda like cheese, Hafod organic Cheddar and Celtic Promise, a soft and mildly pungent washed-rind cheese.
We've put together a Welsh cheese hamper to save you buying these welsh beauties individually.
There are many fantastic Irish cheeses worth mentioning and some really using the landscape to build the character of the cheese. We've used the Island as a whole to talk about the great Irish cheeses.
There are two blues we really want to mention when we talk about Irish cheeses. Cashel Blue from County Tipperary is the first one, a full-fat blue cheese with a rich, creamy texture and a sweet, nutty and salty flavour. This is a must for any blue cheese lover. We also love new kid on the block, Young Buck, made by Mike's Fancy Cheese in Northern Island. A wonderfully tasty unpasteurised blue cheese that follows a Stilton recipe but has a unique taste that makes it more unique than a Stilton.
Coolea is a wonderful Gouda like cheese with rich caramel and butterscotch flavours and a creamy texture. Absolutely delicious and extremely versatile this cheese can be eaten on its own or used in a variety of recipes.
When it comes to innovative Irish cheeses, look no further than Dilliskus, a hard cows milk cheese flecked with seaweed. This is a great use of the land and the sea to produce a unique and beautiful cheese.