It has been said that the moon is made of green cheese. We're not sure where the expression comes from, but you have likely heard it, right? Looking at this month's second featured cheese, then, one might presume it has lunar origins. The reality is this unique-looking cheese is not from the moon, it's from England. Incidentally, we lied; we do know where the term "the moon is made of green cheese" comes from. It's a phrase coined in the sixteenth century, attributed to John Heywood in his Proverbes (1546), in which "green" refers not to the color of the moon, but to "new" (a.k.a. green) or immature rounded cheeses with a mottled surface and color similar to that of the moon.
The first Sage Derby was made in England some time during the 17th century when it became one of the many favorite cheeses found as part of a ploughman's lunch. Many cheese connoisseurs believe its origin to be based on an age-old recipe for Derby cheese that originated in Derbyshire, which is still well known for its farming and lush green pastures. Regular Derby is a yellow cheese with a firm texture similar to cheddar. Sage Derby used to be made only at harvest time and for holidays and special celebrations, but these days, thanks to its popularity, it is available year round.
The addition of sage leaves to Derby curd was not done for looks, or even taste. During the 17th century, this ancient evergreen perennial herb was believed to have powerful therapeutic properties that could cure a variety of ailments. And, since the English loved their cheese, they must have figured they were making a tasty, health-imbuing creation. In truth, sage carries many medicinal properties. English Sage can be made into tea and taken to counteract sweating and to aid in digestion. Infusions of Sage can be used to treat depression, nervous anxiety, and liver disorders. No wonder it was popular! Since the leaves are also antiseptic, the infusion makes a great gargle for laryngitis and tonsillitis and can also be used as a mouth freshener.
Popularity often begets imitation, and when it comes to Sage Derby, there are quite a few imposters. Fortunately, the well-honed palates at the Gourmet Cheese of the Month Club found a traditionally made Sage Derby for you to relish. This interesting cheese is made by blending fresh garden sage into traditional Derby cheese curd during the production process. Adding sage at this stage in the cheesemaking process permits the herb's flavor to develop during the time the cheese matures, usually about one to three months.
Because it is so unusual looking and has a mild, pleasing taste, Sage Derby makes a unique addition to any cheese board. Count on a fresh flavor like no other. It has a subtle but distinctive flavor, and it develops attractive and unique green marbling. But the sage is not the only ingredient contributing to the green color. Spinach juice is also added to this vegetarian cheese to color it, though spinach flavors are extremely subtle, often completely undetectable.