What is a territorial cheese? At first listen, it might sound like a rather possessive breed of dog. In reality the term refers to a group of cheeses that honor time and the tradition of cheese making. These cheeses acquire their names from the land that they come from. We’ve all seen new innovative methods of cheese making pop up over the years. But what I’m talking about are the classics, the OG’s, those wonderful black and white films that started it all.
Here’s a tiny bit of history: The cheese world almost suffered an inconceivable loss in the 1900s. During the world wars, many cheese makers were forced to make government cheese to help the cause. Many of the traditional farmhouse wheels--which were common at the time--began to transform into orange and white blocks wrapped in plastic. And then there was the beginning of the Milk Marketing Board in the 1930s, which put pressure on small cheese makers. Pretty soon, cheese had gone from a complex, region-specific delight to a mass-produced product washed of its many unique identities.
Luckily, territorial cheeses have made a comeback! Territorials celebrate what once was. They are the originals. And much like great wine, these wheels of cheese express terroir, meaning they speak to a unique plot of land and elements that can't be replicated just anywhere. If you want to take a trip back through time and experience tradition, all you have to do is taste a Territorial.
Here are a few of our favorites from England:
Appleby's Cheshire The eldest, Appleby’s Cheshire, is the serious, studious type, spending her time at the library in Shropshire with a good book and a tasty apple. She’s got a clean and refreshing vibe that is both sophisticated and accommodating. As the last traditional Cheshire around, Appleby's is truly a farmhouse cheese. The flavor has a mineral tinge that comes from the cows' diet of maize, slow growing grass, and grass silage (fermented, high-moisture dried grass).
Kirkham's Lancashire Then there's Kirkham’s Lancashire from Lancashire. This is definitely the frivolous and intuitive sibling of the bunch. Lancashire's texture is positively cloud like. I’ve never come across something so fluffy and rich in one bite. It seems impossible! Cheese maker Graham Kirkham combines three days of curd in his process and allows his milk to develop more naturally than most by using very little starter culture. Oh, and let’s not forget the wonderful butter seal that is rubbed on each wheel. Lancashire's delightful texture is matched by rich and tangy flavors that wash over your taste buds.
Hawe's Wensleydale And last but not least, Hawe’s Wensleydale, the young headstrong gal from North Yorkshire. This little lady has survived, despite almost being shut down and moved to Lancashire in the early nineties. Cheese makers and locals alike rallied together to keep this favorite of Wallace and Gromit where it belonged--in Wensleydale. I love this cheese because it completely evolves in your mouth. Wensleydale is soft and supple near the rind and then gets crumbly in the center. Awesome.
Step back in time and taste what cheese used to be and could be once again. These cheeses hold on to tradition and embody the land. Not to mention, they're delicious!
--Katie Renner, Cheese Buyer