Yarg: The Cornish cheese that's conquered America

It dates back to the 13th century and comes wrapped in stinging nettles. Anna Hart discovers its long and rinding road to success

It took 10 hours for the nettle-wrapped, creamy Cornish cheese wheel to win over the two FDA inspectors – but it succeeded, and now Yarg, a semi-hard cow's milk cheese made from a recipe thought to date back to the 13th century, is finally being sold in the US.

"The process was fairly gruelling," says Catherine Mead, a cheesemaker at Lynher Dairies. "Being audited by US inspectors was very different to audits within the European dairy industry. For a start, the US inspectors had never seen stinging nettles before, so we had to explain what they were, then explain that we paint them on to the cheese after sterilising them with lemon juice." At one point, the two FDA officials brought out a manual on pasteurisation numbering 1,700 pages. "We all thought, 'Wow, that is a lot of procedure on pasteurisation'," says Mead.

And finally, they tasted it. "I think they liked it, but taste wasn't part of their job description," says Mead. The FDA was visiting Lynher Dairies at Pengreep Farm to determine if Yarg – which was to be exported into the US by Neal's Yard Dairy – complied perfectly with US food production standards, following President Obama's FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act.

The FDA is notoriously stringent, and last month caused widespread outcry among artisan cheesemakers by floating the possibility of a ban on the use of wooden shelves for cheesemaking (it has since backed down on this policy). The US also has strict quotas for cheese imports, creating "an unnatural limit on British cheese sales in the US," as Nigel White, the secretary of the British Cheese Board puts it. "But demand is there, and tastebuds are changing, particularly in urban areas on the East and West coasts, where specialist food retailers like Whole Foods have been key in bringing so-called 'farmstead cheeses' to the attention of consumers."

And they clearly have a taste for Yarg. Carol Naden, who runs the popular CheeseTart blog, says, "Taste-wise, Yarg is often described as a cross between a Caerphilly and a good Cheddar – creamy but light. The nettles add a mild herby flavour, but the Yarg covered in wild garlic leaves makes the cheese more moist and whacks in a good fresh garlic taste."

Americans have long been maligned for being a nation whose taste for cheese doesn't stretch beyond a bright yellow Kraft slice. Many commentators argue that the country doesn't have a cheesemaking industry, but rather a cheese-manufacturing industry. According to White, this generalisation is increasingly invalid. "Over the past five years, Americans have seen a mini cheese revolution, and now consumers really do appreciate artisan or farmstead cheeses; specialist cheeses with a very different texture to what had previously sold well," says White. "And an important factor is that they've got the money to buy quality cheeses. Here, at Neal's Yard, we'll see cheese sold for an affordable £45 per kilo. In the US, in specialist deli shops, you'll find locally made cheeses and imported artisan produce going for around $50 a pound."

The original makers of Yarg could hardly have dreamed that one day their creamy, herby cheese would conquer America and find its way on to the cheeseboards of trendy NYC restaurants and posh delis in LA. Cornish Yarg was first made commercially on Bodmin Moor in the early 1980s by two artisan cheesemakers, Alan and Jenny Gray. As authentically Cornish as the name sounds, it is simply the surname "Gray" backwards. "The story goes that Alan found the recipe in a dusty old book in the attic, and we've since worked from a recipe in a 1615 volume by Gervase Markham," says Mead.

The so-called Yarg recipe has changed little over the centuries. What has changed is our tastebuds, and now American consumers appear to be following suit.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living