British cheese is quite unique.
This is partly due to the history of British cheese, but also due to the extraordinary passion that the British buying public has for new and innovative cheeses.
To be honest, the British cheese industry was damaged by the 20th century.
Two world wars and the resulting food shortages and restrictions meant that an awful lot of artisan cheeses and unique traditional cheeses were lost when milk and cheese production was basically nationalised.
The National Institute of Researching Dairying, formed early in the century, sought to put pressure on traditional methods of processing milk. They insisted on pasteurisation and spray drying, so milk could be 'rendered safe’. Of course, this went against the practises of many artisan cheesemakers, who relied on good, honest, entirely harmless microbes to create the huge variety of Great British cheeses. As cheesemaking became scientific and industrial, so the smaller, more interesting cheeses were lost.
The establishment of the Milk Marketing Board in 1933 was the last straw. The held the rights to purchase and collect all milk produced on farms in England and Wales at a guaranteed price. Why bother to make and sell artisan cheese when they could get a good price for their milk anytime.
Farmhouse cheese productions suffered a precipitous fall. By 1956, there were just 140 farmhouse cheesemakers left in the whole of Great Britain.
By the time the Milk Marketing Board dissolved, and the NIRD disbanded, it was almost too late. Luckily, the the 80s and 90s saw a resurgence in small production. There emerged exciting and inventive group of farmers who were looking for ways to add value to their milk production.
At first these innovative cheese makers wanted to make variations of continental or popular English cheeses. But as time moved on, the market demanded more interesting cheese. Some were derived from traditional recipes unearthed from dusty attics, some combined continental methods of production with classic British styles, some created totally unique cheeses designed to be crowd pleasers...
Here are two of our favourites...
Highland Fine Cheese
The Stone family began making cheese in earnest in the 80s and by 1994 when son Rory joined mum, Susannah, and his older brother in the family business. He has headed up the business ever since. They have a reputation for mould-ripened, brie-like cheese, blue and washed-rind styles. All the milk comes from three farms, Sibster just west of Wick, Thrumster with a herd of organic Jersey cows and Rootfield on the Black Isle which is converting to Ayrshire cows. Their amazing cheeses include the inventive and traditional - Crowdie, Black Crowdie, Caboc, Morangie and Highland Brie, Strathdon Blue, Blue Murder, Fat Cow and Minger!
Shepherds Purse Artisan Cheeses
In the late 1980s, the late, great Judy Bell discovered her passion and talent for cheese. She started making cheese from sheep milk, then extended to cow's milk and even water buffalo milk cheeses.
They won their first Gold Award in 1989 with Olde York at Nantwich International Cheese Show, they got rightly famous for their Med-style Yorkshire Fettle and sheep milk Mrs Bell's Blue. In 2017 they won Super Gold with Harrogate Blue at the World Cheese awards putting it in the top 15 cheeses in the world!
The Shepherds Purse team is now a team of 35 passionate artisans being led by Judy’s two daughters Katie and Caroline.