Fabulous British alternative cheeses to the continental greats

“Last time, though, a bid from my teenage daughter gave me pause: ‘Get a couple of blocks of cheddar . . . and maybe get some cheese as well . . . ’ You could, of course, attribute this to adolescent weirdness and no one could blame you, but I really understood. The commodity block cheddar we buy at the supermarket has become a sort of category all of its own.”

Tim Hayward, The Financial Times, March 11 2021

Tim Hayward then goes on to say that we can become a bit too precious about food. Supermarket cheddar transforms toast, jacket potatoes, and cauliflower cheese. It salves the midnight munchies. It’s not expensive and it’s easy to find. It very effectively fulfills a need.

Hayward’s daughter’s comment didn’t just give him pause, it gave me pause too, but my thoughts started to run along a different rail network altogether. Agreed, cheddar is so all-purpose, so ubiquitous, that it deserves to be lauded as an entity in its own right. But something on a lesser scale has happened to other great cheeses, most of them from France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and The Netherlands. And this isn’t necessarily quite such a good thing.

Take Gruyère, for example. This has become a term used in recipes as being synonymous with ‘melting cheese’ – it has ceased to mean, specifically, a mountain cows’ cheese coming from a particular part of western Switzerland. Parmesan (rather than its correct name, Parmigiano-Reggiano) is a term which has come to mean ‘cheese you grate over pasta…and pretty much everything else’. Feta has come to mean ‘salty, crumbly, white cheese, plonked onto a salad’.

This is not good news for those of us living in Britain. Why?

Recently I was bemoaning the impossibility, post-Brexit, of getting Stitchelton in Europe with its cheesemaker, Joe Schneider. I was by far not the first he assured me. He tried to find a wholesaler for me, but without success.

The door has clanged shut for British cheesemakers looking to export. To be fair, the European market has always been limited: selling cheese to a Frenchman proud of his Roquefort and Bries; to a Dutchman, happy with his Goudas and Edams; or to an Italian, comfortably familiar with his Parmigiano and Gorgonzola, is uphill work. But it means that now the home market is more important than ever.

And all those continental cheeses have had the advantage of a start of several centuries to build up brand recognition in Blighty. So, many people continue to buy them simply because they aren’t aware of the local alternatives.

And by golly, what alternatives they are! If you live in the UK, now is the moment to support the nascent, native cheese industry, and enjoy the treat of exploring the treasure on offer.

Below we give a list of British cheeses you might want to try instead of the continental ‘standards’. They are not better, or worse, and most aren’t straight substitutes. Every cheese has its own personality. The intention is solely to open up horizons, and support an industry supplying some outstanding produce. These are not rigid guidelines, just suggestions.

Bear in mind

  • The list doesn’t include the many excellent cheeses which are just completely ‘themselves’, unlike anything else.
  • Cheese is a natural product, it varies according to many factors, including the season, the weather, and the conditions in which it’s kept.

The List – continental greats, and alternative British cheeses to try

Appenzeller

Brebis

Brie

Baron Bigod

Burrata

Camembert

  • Try a Tunworth, truffley, garlicky…. great heated in a ceramic container
  • Cote Hill Blue, is rich and creamy like a Camembert, but it is, of course, a blue cheese
  • Sussex Camembert, won Gold with two stars at The Great Taste Awards
Tunworth – great heated in a ceramic container
Cote Hill Blue

Cantal

  • Some people think the Romans took Cantal cheese to Britain…. where it became cheddar. Whether or not that is true, Cheddar is probably the nearest equivalent these days.

For a post on Cantal cheese, follow this link.

Cantal cheese
Cantal cheese, could it be cheddar’s grandpa?

Chimay, and other monastic washed-rind cheeses

  • Renegade Monk is washed with Funky Monkey ale – it’s a hybrid cheese between a soft white and a blue
  • Maida Vale is also washed in a local ale

For a post on washed-rind cheeses, follow this link.

alternative british cheeses
Renegade Monk, washed with Funky Monkey ale

Comté

  • Try Cornish Kern, buttery, caramel notes – a World Cheese Supreme Champion

For a post on Comté, follow this link.

Cornish kern
Cornish Kern – a good substitute for Comté

Edam

  • Try a mild cheddar

Emmental

Epoisses

alternative british cheeses
Oxford Isis, washed in mead, a Muhammed Ali of a cheese.

Feta (Greek feta is made from ewes’ or goats’ milk)

Or try a light, tangy, crumbly Cheshire

Gorgonzola

  • Beauvale is a sort of cross between a Stilton and a Gorgonzola
  • Rebel Nun is like a young Gorgonzola, or a Dolcelatte

Gouda

wyfe of bath cheese
We go into the Wyfe Of Bath room.

Gruyère

  • Try Summer Field Alpine (a vegetarian cheese)
  • Two cheeses made by Anne Clayton, of Larkton Hall, described as ‘Gruyère meets Cheshire’. Both are’ grassy, buttery and smooth’. Crabtree is gentler and softer; while the more mature Federia is richer and firmer. I can’t find a website for this dairy, but they do have a Facebook page.
  • Or Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrelled, which is like a cross between cheddar and an aged Gruyère . For a post about Lincolnshire Poacher, follow this link.
lincolnshire poacher
Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barreled, a cross between cheddar and an aged Gruyère

Halloumi

For a post on halloumi, follow this link.

all about halloumi
Halloumi – great for griddling

“There were rectangles of fried halloumi, made from goat’s and ewe’s milk, arguably the island’s most famous export and undoubtedly the world’s favourite squeaky cheese.”

Yasmin Khan, The Financial Times

Langres

  • Edmund Tew, cows’ milk with a light brine washing, earthy and malty

L’Etivaz

Try Bermondsey Hard Pressed, made in a copper vat imported from Switzerland

Bermondsey Hard Pressed
Bermondsey Hard Pressed

Manchego (or the softer and milder Ossau Iraty)

For a post on Lord of the Hundreds and Corra Linn, follow this link.

For a post on Ossau Iraty, follow this link.

corra linn cheese
Corra Linn cheese
Lord of the Hundreds... an attractive white knobbly rind.
Lord of the Hundreds… an attractive white knobbly rind.

Morbier

  • Ashcombe, which also has a striking line of wood ash running through it.
Morbier

Mozzarella

For an interview with Simona Di Vietri, founder and Managing Director of La Latteria, follow this link.

Lifting and pulling the mozzarella
Lifting and pulling the mozzarella at La Latteria, in London

Münster

Parmeggiano, Grana Padano

  • Sussex Charmer – love child of Parmesan and cheddar
  • Old Winchester, a vegetarian cheese
  • Twineham Grange Italian Style Premium Cheese, also vegetarian
  • Doddington – this cheese has the hardness of a cheddar, but, dependent on the batch, it can have the umami, ‘brothy’ taste of Parmesan.

“Doddington: the ultimate, slightly granular, sweet hard cheese with crazy depth of flavour.”

Thomasina Miers, when asked for her dessert island cheese by Phil Daoust, The Guardian

For a post on the difference between Parmeggiano and Grana Padano, follow this link.

alternative british cheeses
Old Winchester

Pave d’Auge – a square, flat, washed rind cows’ milk cheese

Pecorino

  • Spenwood is made by Anne Wigmore who was inspired by a visit to Sardinia. It’s made with ewes’ milk, but in Berkshire where the weather and pasture is a bit different.
  • Yorkshire Pecorino Fresco, made by Mario Olianas, is only 30 days old.
alternative british cheeses
I haven’t tried either of these suggestions…. but it’s hard to beat a fine, aged Pecorino from Sardinia!

Raclette

Reblochon

  • Try Rollright – also a little like a mild Munster
  • Baronet, whose rind is brine-washed and rubbed in the same style as Reblochon
  • Golden Cenarth, nutty flavour, pairs well with beer, bakes well
alternative british cheeses
Rollright, also a bit like a mild Munster
Baronet

Ricotta

Ricotta, the fresher the better

Roquefort

  • Beenleigh Blue is made to a Roquefort-inspired recipe, but is a bit different… lemony, more crumbly
  • Harbourne Blue, is also made to a Roquefort-inspired recipe, but uses goats’ milk rather than ewes’ milk, and is therefore also rather different. Both Beenleigh and Harbourne Blues are made by Ticklemore.

Sainte-Maure de Touraine or Riblaire St Varent, (goat cheese log)

For a post on Riblaire St Varent, follow this link.

Ragstone
Golden Cross

Saint-Marcellin

  • Try St Jude, soft, almost mousse-like
St Marcellin comes in an earthenware pot

Selles-sur-Cher

  • Hay-on-wye, made by Charlie Westhead at the Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire, goats’ cheese

Stracciatella

Tomme

Vacherin Mont d’Or

Try a Winslade, a cross between a Camembert style cheese and a Vacherin Mont d’Or. For a post on Winslade, follow this link.

winslade cheese
I caught this Winslade just at the right time… it just oozed out on the cut

Valençay – goats cheese, pyramid shape

For a post on Pavé Cobble, follow this link.

Cerney Ash
Tor
pave cobble cheese
Pavé Cobble
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