Cheese has a rich and diverse history in the United Kingdom, dating back to the Roman occupation over 2,000 years ago. Since then, cheese has played a significant role in British culture and cuisine, with over 700 different types of cheese produced in the UK today. Read on as we take you through the origins of cheese in England all the way up to the present day.
The Roman Influence
The Romans were known for their love of cheese, and they introduced a variety of cheese-making techniques to the UK. The most significant contribution was the art of cheesemaking. The techniques they brought from Italy included the curdling of milk and using rennet to separate the curds and whey. They also introduced the use of wooden cheese presses, which were used to remove excess whey from the curds.
Roman cheese was a simple, unripened cheese that could be produced quickly and easily. The cheese was made by heating milk in a cauldron and then adding vinegar or sour wine to coagulate the curds. The curds were then drained and placed in a mould to take shape. Hard and salty cheese varieties were also introduced by the Romans to the UK, the latter of which cleverly used salt to preserve, store and transport cheese more easily.
The Rise of the Monasteries
During the medieval period, monasteries became centres of cheesemaking. Monks were responsible for the production of cheese, and they developed many of the unique and distinct cheeses that we still make use of today.
Cheesemaking became an essential source of income for many monasteries, and the cheese was sold in local markets. The monks made cheese from the milk of their own cows and used the techniques that they had learned from the Romans. Cheese production also allowed the monks to preserve excess milk from their cows, ensuring a steady supply of food during the winter months.
The monks experimented with different flavours, shapes, and sizes of cheese and developed many of the UK's most famous cheeses, such as Cheddar, which was first made in the town of Cheddar in Somerset by monks in the 12th century.
Industrialisation and Modern Cheese Production
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution brought radical innovations to the cheese-making industry. Production became more efficient, with the introduction of new technology such as the cheese press. This allowed for the mass production of cheese, which eventually led to the creation of some of the UK's most famous cheeses, such as Stilton and Wensleydale.
The use of modern technology also made it possible to produce cheese with a longer shelf life. This allowed cheese to be exported and sold over longer distances, which led to an increase in demand for British cheese around the world. The UK at one time made up 70% of all cheese sales worldwide, and it stemmed from these innovations.
One of the unique aspects of cheese production in the UK is the vast range of regional variations. Each region has its own distinct cheese-making traditions and techniques, resulting in a wide variety of cheeses with different textures, flavours and appearances.
You can travel around this little isle and find cheeses as diverse as Cheshire, Lancashire, Red Leicester and Double Gloucester, a testament to the rich history of cheese production in the UK.
In Short: Britain Loves Cheese
Cheese has been an integral part of British culture for centuries, with a far-reaching history that has influenced cheese production around the world. From the Roman Empire to the Industrial Revolution, the UK has developed a unique and extensive range of cheeses that are enjoyed worldwide.
At Rennet & Rind, we play a small part in that with our finely crafted artisan cheeses. We’re an award-winning cheesemonger and affineur, and our online store holds a bounty of many niche and wonderful cheese varieties. Why not explore them and see what’s out there? Or if you’d like to have a care package of some of our finest cheeses, consider looking at our ever-popular mystery cheese box to have a curated selection of five of our highlights. Browse our collection today and taste the pleasures of Rennet & Rind’s lauded artisan cheeses.