Thread: Cheese musings
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Old 09.09.2010, 11:43
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Re: Cheese musings

The answer to your question could fill a book I guess, but here's a shortish reply......

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Whilst enjoying a variety of Grumpys cheeses tonight i had the same thought I often have and this time I thought i'd put it to you guys - why isn't British cheese famous/well known world wide, why aren't the British regarded as a great cheese making nation?
The main reason stems from 1939 when there were over 1500 cheese makers in the UK. At the outbreak of the war the ministry of food saw these cheese makers as being quite wasteful with an important source of protein, so they banned cheese making - all the milk for cheese was then used to make powdered milk, quicker to process, easier to store and cheaper to transport. They did allow a few factory dairies to make a very mild, fast maturing plastic substance which they called the "National Cheese" and towards the end of the war these factories were allowed to produce 5 or 6 other varieties but they re-designed the original recipes to work with their existing mass production machinery. It is these cheap, mass produced post-war creations that are still offered in the UK supermarkets.

Restrictions were lifted in 1952 so that farmers could make cheese again, but after a 13 year break they had lost the skills, family members or even the farms to make them with. Also at this time supermarkets starting opening and they were not interested in relatively expensive hand made cheeses when cheap, mass produced cheeses were readily available. These supermarkets really controlled the cheese market until well into the 1970's (well, they still do control the mass market for cheese) meaning that 3 generations of British people forgot that Britain can make "proper" cheese.

Even to this day, if a visitor to the UK wanted to take some cheese home, chance are that they would visit a high street supermarket and buy what still is some of the worse cheese in the world.

Also, the Brits themselves are partly to blame. I have found that to most people back home, good food has to be exotic food. Hence, in a traditional pub in the country you are more likely to find Thai green curry rather than Rabbit pie or Lincolnshire Chine. To most Brits, Cheddar cheese is good, but it ain't special like French cheese. Innit.

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I like Swiss cheese but the majority of it is very similar, slightly rubbery at times, same colour, texture and usually taste. So I ask, why does this nice but a bit bland cheese have notoriety around the globe and how the hell did the Swiss become world renowned cheese makers/producers?
The main ingredient for cheese is grass and in the mountains they do have good quality grass in abundance. The difference in quality is quite subtle but it does make a difference to the finished product. Also the Swiss (and French of course) are very well educated about quality food (as opposed to processed supermarket fodder) and, unlike the Brits, shout from the rooftops about how good their cheese is.

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When you visit Grumpys stall compared to the other stalls around him selling swiss cheeses you first of all notice the array of colours of the cheese, then you taste and they all have different textures and tastes, they are so diverse in comparison to many other nations' cheeses.
Well, Britain does make more varieties of cheese (over 700) more than any other country, so at a cheese stall selling 50 or more of the best of these varieties you will find lots of different styles, flavours and textures, something that I think I'm quite well known for. Even my 5 cheddars in stock at the moment are very different from each other. Also, the different rinds that British cheese has, cloth and lard bound, waxed, natural bloom, wash rinded, nettle and herb rinds, all give a beautiful picture of variety.

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I suppose what i am wondering is how the hell did Swiss cheese become famous and British cheese leaves more non British people saying 'what? British cheese? good?'

For me it's the best but then maybe I am biased
You shout loud enough about how proud you are of your (admittedly high quality) product, and the message will eventually stick. Something that I'm working on right now
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Mike

Monger of fine British Cheeses
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