I had often wondered how there could be so many types of cheese. Over 700 varieties in Britain alone, and hundreds more across the world – what makes them all unique? So I decided to visit the Wensleydale Creamery, at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, to find out more about my favourite food.
Wensleydale Cheese Museum
We were at the Wensleydale Cheese Museum, which explores the history of local cheesemaking. Here we learnt that Wensleydale cheese was first produced in the 12th century and that, like so much in the Yorkshire Dales, it originated with the Cistercian monks. After the dissolution of the monasteries cheese was made in local farmhouses, and eventually it moved to large scale commercial manufacture.
We walked through the museum looking at an old fashioned farmhouse kitchen and at the tools used in traditional cheesemaking. But for me the most interesting thing was learning about how cheese is made today and why there are so many varieties. Unfortunately we couldn’t take the tour of the factory as the Creamery wasn’t making cheese that day, but we were able to watch a film showing the manufacturing process from start to finish. This explained what makes each cheese unique: apparently there are three variables – the kind and quality of milk used, the type of starter culture, and the method of production – and these enable the creation of hundreds of different sorts of cheese across the world.
Wensleydale Cheese Today
Today Wensleydale cheese is made from cows’ milk (although in the Middle Ages sheep’s milk was used), and it has a distinctive crumbly texture and creamy flavour. In 1995 the comic inventor Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) revealed that Wensleydale was his favourite cheese, and there has been a close association between the Creamery and the comedy duo ever since.
We walked through the shop and sampled the different types of Wensleydale, including the “blended” varieties, which may incorporate fruit, garlic or ginger. And then it was time to try the restaurant, where we had a predictably cheesy meal, including a cheesecake full of crumbly cheese – delicious! (Eating cheese with sweet dishes is traditional here in Yorkshire, where it can accompany fruit cake or even apple pie.)
As we ate we looked out over the rolling countryside of the Yorkshire Dales. With such lush green grass it was no surprise that the cows produced creamy milk!