Wensleydale is the most famous of all the Yorkshire Dale cheeses. Moist and crumbly with a mild sweet flavour, it’s usually eaten when young. The recipe for Wensleydale can be traced back to the Cistercian monks who came over to England with William the Conqueror in the 11th century, who brought with them their cheese making skills.

Wensleydale Cheese

The monks held large tracts of land in the Dales and the Cistercians at Jervaulx made a blue-veined cheese with ewes’ milk using the same methods as for Roquefort. Ewes’ milk was used until about the fourteenth century when cows’ milk began to be used instead. It’s reasonable to suppose that the reason for this was that it took much less time and effort to milk one cow than several sheep!

The Reformation during the reign on Henry VIII caused the monks to flee from persecution and seek refuge with local families. The grateful monks gave their secret recipe for the cheese to these families who started to make it on their smallholdings and farms.

This small scale production continued until the end of the nineteenth century and almost faced extinction when the fist Creamery was opened in Hawes in North Yorkshire by Edward Chapman. The invention of motor transport made it easy to collect milk from scattered farms in the area and so it was viable to produce cheese in large centres

The cheese acquired the name Wensleydale only in the nineteenth century and remained a blue-veined cheese until the 1920s when changes in the production methods caused the veining to disappear and led to the creation of the now familiar white cheese. Wensleydale Dairy Products are now reviving the manufacture of the ‘old fashioned’ blue Wensleydale by emulating ancient traditional recipes. Blue Wensleydale cheese is lightly pressed for twenty four hours before being bound in muslin. It is then transferred to a humidified maturing room with similar dark, cool and moist conditions to a farmhouse or monastery cellar. The cheese is turned regularly, pierced to facilitate the development of blue mould and matured for at least six weeks. Blue Veined Wensleydale requires six months to mature. It has a smooth creamy texture similar to Stilton but with a mellower flavour. White Wensleydale is soft and flaky with a mild slightly salty flavour, while the blue is richer with a creamier, more delicate taste.

Yorkshire people have long enjoyed young Wensleydale with a slice of apple pie, fruit cake or spice bread, although it’s also delicious accompanied by a glass of dry white wine, beer,or cider.

Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes still produces traditional handmade Wensleydale cheese to a time-honoured traditional recipe using milk from surrounding farms in Upper Wensleydale. from cows that have grazed in the sweet limestone meadows rich in herbs. The upper dale is classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area, which means farmers are encouraged and receive premium payments to restrict the quantities of artificial fertilisers used on their land. They also receive similar payments if they delay the annual haymaking activity until early July. This allows the native plants and grasses to grow and shed their seeds before being cut for hay, ensuring the survival of the natural herbage, essential for the flavour of the cheese. The wild herbs growing in this area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, give the milk and hence the cheese its special ‘Dales’ flavour.

At the Creamery, a starter (a special blend of bacteria) is added to the milk to sour it – a process that gives Wensleydale Cheese its special flavour. Salt is then added to the curd to act as a preservative, expel excess moisture and enhance the flavour. White Wensleydale cheese is ripened for just three weeks. The texture of the finished cheese is determined by how well the curd is worked; the blocks of curd are turned then cut into small cubes, which is a skilled operation. Finally, wrapping the cheese in muslin allows the flavour to develop as it matures.

Hawes Creamery also makes other varieties of Wensleydale:

  • Sheep’s Milk Wensleydale has a clean, fresh and milky flavour and smooth and creamy texture.
  • Cows & Ewes milk Wensleydale uses a blend of milk from Wensleydale cows with 25% ewes’ milk to give a delicious, creamy texture.
  • Special Reserve is ripened for nine months to produce a deep flavour and crumbly, moist texture.
  • Rum Rich Wensleydale contains cherries and mixed fruit soaked in rum
  • Wensleydale Cheese with Cranberries and Kirsch is ideal for Christmas.
  • Wensleydale with Onions & Chives
  • Wensleydale with Apricots
  • Wensleydale with Stem Ginger.
  • Oak Smoked Wensleydale is naturally ‘cold smoked’ over oak and hardwood chips for up to 24 hours to impart a subtle, smoky taste. During the smoking process the surface of the cheese turns golden brown.

This old fashioned supper dish is deliciously light and airy Рsimilar to a souffl̩.

110g/4 ounces Wensleydale cheese, crumbled
50g/2 ounces fresh white breadcrumbs
2 eggs
450 ml /2 cups milk
salt and pepper
A little freshly grated nutmeg

Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well. Pour into a buttered ovenproof dish about 900 ml/1½ pints capacity. Cook for 30 minutes 350ºF until golden and puffy. Serve hot with green vegetables or a crisp green salad. Serves 2.

Wensleydale Creamery offers tours of the Creamery daily from 10.00am
There’s also a Visitor Centre where you can see the cheese being made, restaurant, and Cheese Shop (with a wide range of speciality cheeses) and a museum. Opening hours: Summer 9.00am – 5.30pm Winter 9.30am – 4.30pm.

Wensleydale Dairy Products Ltd.,
Gayle Lane,
North Yorkshire
Publisher’s Note: Wensleydale cheeses are available at gourmet shops around the US and Canada.

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