Sunday Food: Wensleydale Cheese
(Picture courtesy of Carol at flickr.com.)
There are a lot of discoveries going on, and this week I happened to pick up some of a cheese brand I wasn’t familiar with, and found out it’s not just a British peculiarity, it’s got wonderful history. Wensleydale cheese is crumbly and has honeyed flavor, goes wonderfully with fruit. I’d been attracted to it, as it had cranberries in it like some of my favorite Pennsylvania Stilton.
Wensleydale cheese was first made by French Cistercian monks from the Roquefort region, who had settled in Wensleydale. They built a monastery at Fors, but some years later the monks moved to Jervaulx in Lower Wensleydale. They brought with them a recipe for making cheese from sheep’s milk.During the 14th century cows’ milk began to be used instead, and the character of the cheese began to change. A little ewes’ milk was still mixed in since it gave a more open texture, and allowed the development of the blue mould. At that time, Wensleydale was almost always blue with the white variety almost unknown. Nowadays, the opposite is true, with blue Wensleydale rarely seen. When the monastery was dissolved in 1540 the local farmers continued making the cheese right up until the Second World War, during which most milk in the country was used for the making of “Government Cheddar“. Even after rationing ceased in 1954, cheese making did not return to pre-war levels.
Wensleydale was one of the cheeses named by John Cleese in the Monty Python sketch “The Cheese Shop“, which originally appeared in a 1972 episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In addition, the shop owner, played by Michael Palin, was named ‘Henry Wensleydale’, which caused some confusion between the two when the cheese was mentioned.
In the 1990s, sales of Wensleydale cheese had fallen so low that production was at risk of being suspended. However, the popular Wallace and Gromit animated shorts A Grand Day Out and A Close Shave had the main character Wallace, a cheese connoisseur, mention Wensleydale as a particularly favourite cheese. Animator Nick Park chose it solely because it had a good name that would be interesting to animate rather than due to its origins in northern England where the shorts were set. He was also unaware of the company’s financial difficulties. The company contacted Aardman Animations about a licence for a special brand of “Wallace and Gromit Wensleydale”, which proved to be an enormous success. When the 2005 full-length Wallace and Gromit film, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was released, sales of Wensleydale cheeses jumped by 23%.
It’s survived since the 1100’s for a reason, and you’ll enjoy this when you get some. The plate of fruits and cheeses cries for the Wensleydale taste and texture, wishing you a great experience when you arrive at such a plate.
(Picture courtesy of Arthaey Angosii at flickr.com.)