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Our second featured cheese comes from the northern county of Wensleydale, England, a few miles northwest of York. This region, also known as The Dales, has a long history of quality cheesemaking—dating back to Roman times. It may well be that William the Conqueror and other infamous figures of history enjoyed cheese made from the very same recipe as the Wensleydale you're about to sample. All cheeses bearing the name were originally produced from sheep's milk and briefly aged into a soft, moist, blue cheese. By the middle of the 17th century, when cows replaced sheep as the main source of milk for Wensleydale cheeses, this changed. With the Industrial Revolution, further changes ensued. Standardization and large scale factory-based production created major differences in the character and style of Wensleydale. Its texture became harder, with no bluing, and it was sold quite young. By the end of World War II, there were fewer than a dozen farms left making Wensleydale.
To compound these less-than-positive alterations, in the 1950's the Milk Marketing Board began to create strict guidelines for cheesemaking. Unfortunately, the guidelines didn't take flavor or tradition into consideration but were based on standardized yields and percentages of ingredients, etc. None of the so-called "standards" are satisfactory criteria for producing full-flavored cheese. With the exception of a lone creamery that continued to make the "real" Wensleydale, the last few farmhouse Wensleydale cheesemakers threw in the towel (or, more aptly, their cheesecloth). The Wensleydale Creamery, whose cheese we're bringing you this month, is the only company in the world still making Wensleydale as it has been made for literally hundreds of years.
Hand crafted, wrapped in muslin cheesecloth or wax, this delicious, creamy-white, flaky cheese is pure, natural, and wholesome. The fresh milk drawn from cattle grazing in the sweet limestone Wensleydale meadows and eating the wild herbs growing in this area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, gives this cheese its distinctive and extraordinary flavor. Designated an environmentally sensitive area, this region is restricted in the use of artificial chemicals and fertilizers, ensuring an honest, completely natural composition of ingredients in each batch leaving the Wensleydale Creamery. This is an historical treasure of a cheese!
Descriptions of White Wensleydale are somewhat paradoxical. It is firm but not dry or hard; creamy with a surface that is crumbly; slightly sweet but also tart in flavor. It is sometimes described as having a nutty, buttermilk flavor complemented with a honey aftertaste and the gentle aroma of cut grass. It has a fine curd, minimal texturing, and high moisture content. Wensleydale is usually eaten young, at about a month old. When cutting authentic Wensleydale, you will always get some crumbs The cheese goes well with a crisp apple and is traditionally eaten with fruitcake. It is said that eating apple pie without Wensleydale cheese is like a kiss without a hug.
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