One glorious late summer day, stood in the grounds of the ancient ruins of Ludlow Castle at one of the country's very best food festivals, I met Sarah Appleby. Sarah’s stand was sandwiched between a stall selling the most incredible British Salami, Shropshire Salumi, and our friends stand, the incomparable Netherton Foundry. What a line up! That is the magical thing about food festivals, the meeting of old friends, and new.
Sarah was busily engaging the festival attendees, sharing the story of how Appleby’s cheese is produced. Telling her story with as much passion as if it were the first time she had said it aloud that day, rather than what could well have been her hundredth recital. Passion is something that really separates the real Mccoy producers, from perhaps the hobbyists. You can clearly tell Sarah lives and breathes every detail of her produce, and like us, never tires of connecting with her customers and bringing them closer to where their food has come from. From that moment, I knew we had to join Sarah’s cheese tribe and bring her into the fold of our growing curation of farmhouse cheeses at Pipers Farm.
Cheshire Cheese is England’s oldest cheese style. It is mentioned in the Doomsday book and could possibly have even been made by the Romans. Cheshire cheese became one of the most popular cheeses in the country, at one time it was made across many counties including; Shropshire, Cheshire, Northeast Wales and most of the Midlands. Today, however, Appleby’s is the only remaining regular producer of raw milk, farmhouse Cheshire cheese.
The majority of Cheshire cheese production is now mechanized, however the Appleby family who have made Cheshire cheese for several generations, still produce handmade, clothbound cheese, using their traditional recipe, with very little difference to how it would have been made centuries ago.
“The dairy and farm are part of the rhythm of family life here at Hawkstone Abbey Farm. Our desire to have a more harmonious relationship with the biodynamics of the land has prompted a recent change.” Says Sarah
The farm has undergone a conversion towards a more regenerative and sustainable way of farming. Appleby's Cheshire is made using Friesian milk from the family’s herd. The herd grazes on the salty pastures at the edge of the Cheshire Plain. This is an area extremely rich in minerals, and not surprisingly, one of the main characteristics of traditional Cheshire is a uniquely complex mineral flavour.
“Each clothbound Cheshire encapsulates a moment in time – the soil, the traditional grass pastures, the gentle cows, the weather, the season. The fresh, raw milk is the master ingredient, to which we add traditional cultures, rennet, salt from the Cheshire Plains and the extract of the annatto seed, which gives our coloured Cheshire its warm sunrise colour. These time capsules are matured in old barns with napoleonic timbers. The provenance and flora of our natural surroundings give our Appleby’s cheeses a flavour that is totally unique.” Sarah explains.
The texture of Appleby's Cheshire is firm, yet unctuous and flaky. The colour can be either a gentle orange or, in the case of the uncoloured cheese, a creamy off-white. Flavours are rich and minerally, with savory vegetal notes of grass, making this a mellow very accessible cheese that pairs very well with a glass of beer. I adore cooking with Appleby’s cheeses, with an excellent ‘melt’ both Appleby’s Cheshire and Double Gloucester make a delicious cheesy topping and add a subtle tangy, mineral rich flavour.
As well as a clear focus on producing cheese of real quality, Sarah, Paul and their brood of five children are passionate about protecting the legacy, heritage and provenance of Appleby’s Cheese.
“The ethos behind the way we farm and make our produce today is very much influenced by Paul’s grandparents Lance and Lucy Appleby. Lucy came from a line of Cheshire cheesemaking matriarchs, cheesemaking being a female role, and once she and Lance had married and settled here at Hawkstone Abbey Farm in 1952 they founded Appleby’s in the stables next to the farmhouse kitchen. There it has stayed as one of the last ‘farmhouse’ cheese dairy’s left. This heritage is such an intrinsic part of what we do, from the way we farm to the way we think about maturation. Here in our traditional dairy we make ‘edible heritage’ in a way that still learns from Lucy’s incredible cheese make notes and has an exciting future influenced by those same traditions and values.Master cheesemaker Gary worked with Lucy and now shares his knowledge with our brilliant dairy team, Neil, who makes our delicious whey butter, and John in the maturation rooms.” Says Sarah.
It is incredibly exciting to work with producers like the Appleby family, they are ensuring there is a real future for British Territorial Cheeses by safeguarding the heritage and provenance of one of our most loved cheeses remains for centuries to come, while modernising their farming system to tread lighter, to restore, rather than to just sustain, and to leave a vibrant legacy for future generations.
Appleby’s Cheshire Cheese
This wonderful Cheshire cheese is a unique and complex Cheshire, with a crumbly texture and a zesty, full-bodied and tangy flavour. Recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086, Cheshire is in fact Britain’s oldest cheese, having been made since before Roman times. For hundreds of years, Cheshire cheese was more famous than Cheddar cheese, but more recently it has fallen from grace, and today only the Appleby family make traditional, farmhouse, raw milk, cloth-bound Cheshire cheese, using milk from their own herd of cows.
Appleby’s Double Gloucester Cheese
This incredible Double Gloucester is a traditional, full fat, hard cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk. It uses the same ingredients as Appleby’s Cheshire but with variations in the timing, temperature and acidity. It has a smooth and buttery texture with a rich and nutty yet delicate flavour. The acidity is less dominant than in Cheshire and is balanced with a slight tang and mineral bite.
Appleby’s Raw Milk Whey Butter
Appleby's Whey Butter is made with raw milk, traditionally churned, salted and patted using the ‘scotch hands’ that give the unique lines on the pats. The flavour is deliciously mellow and very moreish. Curds are made into the cheese and the whey was traditionally used to make butter, feed the livestock or put back on the land. Appleby’s revived their whey butter after a 30 year interlude and have found it so popular that they wish they could make twice as much - and we echo this statement! Do stock up when it is available, as it freezes beautifully.