The French used to claim that Britain had many religions but only one cheese (Cheddar), while France had one religion (Catholicism) but a cheese for every day of the year. Now it's our turn to boast a cheese for every day: more than 365 are listed by the cheese-making associations of Britain and Ireland.
There is no question about quality. Quantity is the problem, with only 3,000 tons of hand-made cheese compared with 300,000 tons of the factory-made product. Tracking down good craft cheeses is an act of pilgrimage, for not every town has a specialist cheese shop, and supermarkets are little help. 'They are the enemies of good cheese,' says Cyril O'Donnell, of the Irish Cheesemakers' Association. 'All they want to do is wrap it in clingfilm and put it in a chill cabinet.' But he's delighted to note that the Irish chain Superquinn (with 14 stores) is putting dehumidifiers in the cheese cabinets, and this is going to help. 'You must give good cheese a chance. It's a living thing.'
Many, but not all of the 100 cheeses we list below have been made with raw, unpasteurised milk, which gives the flora and bacteria a chance to ripen the cheeses and develop depth and complexity of flavour.
They call for skill not only from the cheese-maker, but also from the seller. In France this is often an affineur, someone who ripens the cheese to maturity - which is a matter of anything from a few days to many months. You can't sell cheeses like these if you don't understand them. It is many years since I witnessed an exchange in Roche's, the French shop in Old Compton Street, Soho, owned by the wren-like Miss Kathleen Kennedy and her brother, who used to sell around 60 cheeses bought on the Paris market.
Shopper: 'I think I'll have a piece of that Brie.'
Miss Kennedy: 'I wouldn't have that; it's not, ah, ripe.'
Shopper: 'Then can I have a Camembert?'
Miss Kennedy: 'Ah, no, we're not selling Camembert this week, it's too thundery. Turns them quicker than hot weather.'
To help you on your cheese pilgrimage, we have compiled a list of the best 100 in Britain and Ireland. (The telephone numbers of the farms where they are made are also given so that you can ring them to find out your nearest supplier). We also give a list of key shops which pride themselves on their range. Our list has been compiled with the help of Randolph Hodgson of Neals Yard Dairy in Covent Garden, London, Juliet Harbutt, writer and founder of Jeroboam's, another London speciality cheese shop, the Specialist Cheesemakers' Association of England and Wales, and The Irish Farmhouse Cheese Association. Patrick Rance's The Great British Cheese Book (Macmillan pounds 7.95) and the Mitchell Beazley Pocket Cheese Book by Sandy Carr ( pounds 6.99) were also consulted.
The cheeses are listed as follows: first cow's milk, then sheep's, then goat's, with subdivisions for hard, soft and blue cheeses. Three stars *** represent the summit of the cheese- maker's craft and mark superb cheeses worth seeking out at any price; two stars ** indicate excellent cheeses of their kind; one star * represents good-value cheeses made honestly and well.
THE CHEESE DIRECTORY
COW'S MILK CHEESE
*** Caerphilly. Most Caerphilly is moist and slightly sour, sold at one week old. Chris Duckett's is matured eight weeks, and develops a grey mould which ripens the cheese to a sweet creamy finish. Duckett's farm, 0934 712218.
*** Cheddar. Originally from the caves of the Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, now made the world over. At its best one of the world's great cheeses, rich and complex in character, deceptively smooth, with a kick as aggressive as raw onion. Ask for farmhouse Cheddar at any good cheese shop.
*** Cheshire. Farmhouse Cheshires, such as the Appleby's, coloured a startling orange, have a sweet-sour aroma from the crumbly crevices; once inhaled, never forgotten. Flavours of anchovy, celery leaves and peppery rocket, with an intensity of raw onion and mineral salts. 0948 840387.
*** Devon Garland. Made to a Dales recipe from unpasteurised milk, with a garland of herbs inside. Matured for six weeks to make a rich, moist, flaky cheese. 0803 865926.
*** Coolea. Co Cork. Creamy, delicate, Gouda-type cheese from unpasteurised milk, matured up to a year. Sweet with a floral bouquet. 010 353 26 45204.
*** Double Gloucester. Made by Appleby's with very creamy milk from a herd of Gloucesters. Matured four months, it develops a complex richness with a silky texture. 0948 840387.
*** Lancashire. The best is raw, sour and moist when new, maturing quickly to a rich, buttery crumble. Made with three kinds of curd, it has berry and mushroom smells. 0772 865335.
*** Lavistown. Co Kilkenny. Made from unpasteurised milk. Like a Swaledale, creamy and moist, maturing to a sharper-
flavoured, crumblier cheese after six weeks. 010 353 56 65145.
*** Loch Arthur. Beeswing, Dumfries. Powerful, tangy, organic Cheddar made by Barry Graham with lots of bite. 0388 776224.
*** Single Gloucester. A traditional skimmed-milk cheese revived by Diana Smart. Very mild, soft and delicate, like old-fashioned ice-cream. 0452 750225.
*** Teifi. South Wales. Like a very ripe Gouda, ripened with masses of herbs and spices such as cumin, producing a rich, full flavour, matured to six months, best at one year. 0239 75528.
*** Tornegus. A Caerphilly made by Chris Duckett, ripened by James Aldridge in Sussex using Kentish wine and herbs to give a pungent smell; the taste is sweet, not aggressive. 0883 743617.
*** Tyn Grug. Lampeter, Wales. Made by Dougal Campbell and Martin Trethowan, a rich organic Cheddar with a floral bouquet and the smell of pastures. 0570 45237.
** Desmond. Cork. The curds are first boiled, like Emmental, but then the rind is ripened to produce a crusty finish and intensely rich flavour. 010 353 28 28593.
** Double Berkeley. Dymock, Glos. Made by Charles Martell, in the style of Gloucester cheese, marbled red and white, with added herbs. 0531 890637.
** Gabriel. West Cork. Golden speckled crust; extremely hard cheese which melts in the mouth. 010 353 28 28593.
** Gospel Green. Surrey. Grey rind, matured three months. Cross between Cheddar and Cheshire with a sharp tang. 0428 654120.
** Redesdale. Northumberland. Pasteurised, smooth, sweet-tasting cheese, matured three months. 0830 20506.
** Ribblesdale. North Yorks. Traditional Dales recipe makes a firm, moist, sharp cheese (also with ewe's and goat's milk). 0729 860231.
** Torville. Somerset. A fruity, Caerphilly-style cheese, pressed, then matured in cider by Chris Duckett of Wedmore. 0934 712218.
** Wedmore. Somerset-made Caerphilly, also by Chris Duckett. A layer of chives inside gives it a savoury note. 0934 712218.
* Beamish. From Co Durham, made at the Beamish Open Air Museum. Moist and crumbly like a Dales cheese. Clothbound, matures at six weeks. 091-370 2089.
* Botton. From Danby, Yorks. A clothbound, Cheddar-type, made to a Dales recipe. Eat at four months to one year. 0287 661272.
* Coverdale. North Yorks. Typical Dales cheese, crumbly and slightly nutty. Best eaten young. 0765 658212.
* Curworthy. Okehampton, Devon. Seventeenth-century recipe from unpasteurised milk. Buttery when young. Aged for four months, until it develops a grey rind, full of flavour. 0837 810587.
* Derby. Usually sold too young. At best should be matured to six months, when it is mild with a flaky texture. 0564 62329.
* Elgar. Worcester. Pasteurised milk, rich, creamy. Matured six months. 0905 748255.
* Glen O'Sheen. Co Limerick. A good unpasteurised Cheddar, matured four to six months. 010 353 63 86140.
* Hereford Hop. Curds are scalded and pressed, then rolled in toasted hops. Smooth, creamy. 0905 748255.
* Hereford Red. Red wax finishes bright orange cheese, like Leicester. Hard, grainy cheese, with a lemony bite, best at six to nine months. 0905 748255.
* Malvern. Severn Valley. Pale white, smooth cheese, sold young at two months and mature at 10 months. 0905 748255.
* Ring. Co Waterford. Gouda- type cheese, deep gold, nutty taste. 010 353 58 46142.
* Round Tower. Co Cork. Gouda- type cheese made from unpasteurised milk. The maturest are sold at one year old. 010 353 23 47105.
* Sage Lancashire. Farmhouse Lancashire with chopped sage added. 0772 865335.
* Staffordshire. Organic. Quick- maturing Cheddar type, wrapped in muslin. 0782 680366.
* Swaledale. Creamy, mild, moist, young cheese, matured about four weeks. 0748 824932.
* White Stilton. Close-textured, moist cheese, sold at around eight weeks. Very mild. 0949 81322.
*** Bonchester. Scottish borders. Unpasteurised Jersey milk produces cheese in style of French Coulommiers. Deep yellow, creamy and rich with a pleasant, musty smell and orange-peel tang. 045 086635.
*** Golden Saye. Surrey. Milk is from the Duke of Wellington's herd of cattle. Matured by James Aldridge to develop the pungent, farmyard character of a Munster cheese. 0883 843617.
*** Cotherstone. Co Durham. Melting, soft, crumbly texture, sweet but pleasantly sharp and yoghurty, with a smell of the farmyard. Neals Yard and good shops.
*** Gubbeen. West Cork. Apricot-coloured rind, pale yellow inside, with a springy texture. Its melting flavours change with the seasons, from sweet to an overpowering aroma of ripe vegetables with a bitter chicory finish. 010 353 28 28231.
*** Exmoor. Young, unpasteurised cheese sold at four weeks, moist, clean, sharp-tasting. 0761 470620.
*** Milleens. Bantry, Co Cork. The celebrated Veronica Steele's cheese, created in 1978. Bacteria introduced to surface of rind produces a result like Pont l'Eveque. It melts into a buttery ripeness, full of farm smells, meadows and wet hay. 010 353 27 74079.
*** Prince Bonnie. Gloucester. Nun of Caen cheese matured five months longer. Blue-grey rind, ivory colour, intense, sweetish fruity flavour. 0883 843617.
*** Wealden Round. Made by Neals Yard. Hand-moulded with layers of herbs, chives, spring onions, garlic, parsley. 071-379 7646.
** Cloisters. Dymock, Glos. Named in memory of an order of 13th-century monks. Yellow- washed rind. Matured for six weeks. 0531 890637.
** Coquetdale. Otterburn, Northumberland. Crumbly cheese which ripens to a rich creamy, nutty flavour. Mould-ripened in style of the French Tomme. 0830 20506.
** Durrus. Co Cork. Unpasteurised milk, brine-washed, silky and creamy when young. At three months takes on character of a French Tomme, strong-flavoured. 010 353 27 61100.
** Fromage Frais. The original cottage cheese. Neals Yard Dairy's own fromage frais is a classic and won three awards at the London Cheese Show, beating the French entries. Intense, clean, keen lactic quality. 071-379 7646.
* Ardrahan. Ireland. Semi-soft cheese, washed rind, ripens to rich, nutty flavour. 010 353 29 78099.
* Caboc. Ross-shire. Based on Scotland's oldest recorded cheese, to a 15th-century chieftain's recipe. Made with double cream, wrapped in toasted oats. Eat at one week old. From Sainsbury's Scottish stores. 0862 892034.
* Cambridge. Fresh-tasting, made from mixture of pasteurised and unpasteurised milk. Eaten at one week old. Local shops.
* Cooleeney Camembert. Tipperary. Unpasteurised milk, mild, creamy and very soft. 010 353 504 45112.
* St Killian. Co Wexford. Creamy Camembert-type cheese with mushroomy taste. 010 353 54 40560.
*** Blue Stilton. Made in Nottingham, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Although the Colston Bassett dairy, Notts, has switched to pasteurised milk, its Stilton sustains its worldwide reputation among gourmets. Stilton is considered Britain's most distinguished cheese, bitter-sweet, creamy and salty, almost metallic, an iron fist in a velvet glove. 0949 81322.
*** Cashel Blue. Tipperary. Creamy, with a powerful tang reminiscent of Roquefort but moister and less salty. Ripens at two months, intensifies with age. 010 353 52 31151.
*** Dunsyre Blue. Lanark. Made from the unpasteurised milk of Ayrshire cows by Humphrey Errington, who also makes Lanark Blue. Very creamy. 089 981257.
*** Shropshire Blue. An orange- coloured Stilton made in Nottingham and Leicester. 0949 81322.
** Blue Cheshire. Made in Leicestershire. Rich and salty, matures at six months. 0664 822332.
** Chetwynd Blue. Cork. Foil- wrapped, creamy white, similar to Cashel Blue but stronger. 010 353 21 543502.
* Blue Wensleydale. Yorkshire. Close-textured, creamy, delicate, honeyed. Matures at six weeks. 0298 84496.
* Blue Vinny. Dorset. One of the legendary blue cheeses, which might rate higher if it were ever brought back into serious contention. Made with skimmed milk. The time-honoured practice of dredging the curds with bacteria-laden leather harnesses and old boots is no longer permissible. Some local shops in Bath and Dorset.
* Buxton Blue. Buxton, Derby. A light, tangy new cheese, milder than Stilton. 0298 84496.
EWE'S MILK CHEESE
*** Emlett. Yorkshire. Mould-ripened cheese, fruity, slightly tart, with an lingering aftertaste of unripe hazelnuts. Matures at two to five weeks. 0761 470620.
*** Little Ryding. Same family as Emlett, resembling Camembert, which melts to a rich, runny cream, with sweet, nutty hints of vanilla and pears and a smell of wild flowers. 0761 470620.
*** Spenwood. Spencers Wood, Berks. Grey-rinded cheese, matured for six months to give a dry but dense richness with a slightly harsh edge. 0734 884564.
*** Tyning. Mendip Hills. Very hard, translucent cheese with a flavour like Italian Pecorino but less ferocious. Concentrated taste like condensed milk. 0761 470620.
*** Wigmore. Made by Anne Wigmore. Mellow, sweet and nutty. 0734 884564.
* Baydon Hill. North Wilts. Unpasteurised, rich, yellow, pressed goat's cheese, coated in beeswax. Best at five months. 0672 40677.
* Carolina. Kent. Semi-hard, strong cheese. Small cheeses ripen at six weeks, larger ones at two months. 0732 883040.
* Duddleswell. Uckfield, Sussex. Brown rind. Matured at three months, dense, sweet. 0825 712647.
* Nepicar. Kent. Firm, smooth, rich cheese, matured up to six months. 0732 883040.
*** Chesvit. Surrey. A semi-soft Spenwood which James Aldridge matures for two months, salt- washing the rind to ripen it. Smooth, sweet, almost fruity. 0883 743617.
** Nun of Caen. Gloucester. Unpasteurised, ivory-coloured, fruity and creamy. 0531 890637.
* High Peak. Cheshire. A soft curd cheese. Eat within a week. Also preserved in olive oil, which keeps indefinitely. 0565 830270.
*** Beenleigh Blue. Devon. Made by Robin Congdon, smooth, dense, not too salty. 0803 865926.
*** Lanark Blue. Lanarkshire. Humphrey Errington's impression of a mild, creamy Roquefort, slightly smoky. Made from unpasteurised milk. 089 981257.
GOAT'S MILK CHEESE
*** Croghan. Co Wexford. A cooked, pressed cheese which matures to a Brie-like consistency. 010 353 53 29331.
*** Mendip. Smooth and dense under its coarse, hard, grey rind. Very savoury. Eat at one year. 0761 470620.
*** Ticklemore. Devon. Hand- moulded in baskets, 4lb cheeses with a strong flavour. 0803 865926.
** Chiddingly. From Lewes, Sussex. A very good pressed cheese made from unpasteurised milk, to eat at three to six months. 0825 872380.
** Lough Caum. Co Clare. A cooked cheese, pressed, like Cheddar in texture. Matured for six weeks, best a year old. 010 353 65 26633.
* Allerdale. Cumbria. A pressed cheese, waxed. Sweet. Best at six to eight weeks. 0697 343160.
* Caprino. Mendip Hills. Summer cheese allowed to dry hard, suitable for grating when dried hard. 0761 470620.
* Cerney. Gloucestershire. Unpasteurised. Semi-hard pyramid, coated in charcoal ash. Eat from five days to three weeks. 0285 831300.
* Nanny Goat's Cheddar. Somerset. Made in blocks, but one of the best factory-made goat's cheeses. Made with vegetarian rennet. 0278 732084.
* Merlin. Dyfed. Unpasteurised, full-flavoured goat's milk cheese made to Cheddar recipe, several styles. 097 422636.
* Walda. Hampshire. Gouda-type cheese. Matured for two or three years, it becomes like a waxy Parmesan. Good for grating. 0420 63151.
*** Cleire. Cape Clear, Skibbereen. White Coulommiers-type cheese made from British Alpine goats by blind Ed Harper. 010 353 28 39126.
*** Golden Cross. From Lewes, Sussex. Made in the style of French Saint-Maure, a cylinder rolled in ash and ripened for three to four weeks. Dense, gluey and tart, like frothy yoghurt. 0825 872380.
*** Innes. Staffordshire. From Hugh Lillington, who makes the innovative Innes sour-dough bread. Fine-flavoured, melting, gluey cheeses, plain and ash-rolled, or flavoured with rosemary, thyme, oregano. 0827 830097.
*** Perroche. Kent. A fresh-
tasting, mild, moist French-style cheese, made from unpasteurised milk, eaten young. Some are rolled in herbs, like dill. Neals Yard Dairy: 071-379 7646.
*** Tymboro. Mendips. Ripened for two to three weeks to develop a speckled white mould. Pronounced tart and nutty flavours. Sold as pyramids, some ash-coated. 0761 470620.
** St Tola. Co Clare. Clean, fresh-tasting cylinder. 010 353 65 26633.
* Chavannes. North London. Camembert-style, deliciously creamy. Eat at six weeks.
* Jouvenet. North London. Made from a Gedi herd. Matures at two months with a strongish, goaty flavour. 081-449 0695.
* Roubiliac. From a north London Gedi herd. Cylinders made from pasteurised milk with vegetarian rennet. Some are herb- and garlic- coated. 081-449 0695.
* Velde. North London. Creamy, ash-coated pyramid. Matures at three weeks. 081-449 0695.
* Vulscombe. Devon. Crumbly, moist texture, fresh, acid flavour. 0884 252505.
*** Harbourne. Devon. Creamy sister cheese to Beenleigh's ewe's milk cheese. 0803 865926.-