Pron. Red less-ter
History of Red Leicester
What we today call ‘Red Leicester’ cheese today was formerly known as ‘Leicestershire Cheese’.
Like many of the cheeses from years gone by such as Stilton it was named after the county/town from where it originated.
The cheese can be traced back to 17th Century when farmers recognised the need to make their cheeses look and if possible taste different from cheese made in other parts of the country and the convention of colouring cheese with annatto became more popular across the whole of the country.
Leicestershire appears to have been a much deeper colour than either Cheshire or Gloucester and was traditionally made in the shape of a flat wheel the size of which depended on how much milk the farm might have had during the cheesemaking season.
Cheese with a rich orange hue became much valued as it signified a high quality cheese.
Farmers would take the morning’s milk and add to it the cream from the previous evening’s milk.
Cows grazing on rich grass pastures would naturally have a higher carotene content which gave it a natural orange hue.
Then other counties would replicate this and so Annatto was often used to give the same appearance, and so this cheese was born!
During WWII rations were put into place as milk was much more prized than cheese, and only government regulated cheese was allowed to be made. This forced the production of a national recipe to suit the rationing system that was put into place. The cheese was a white Cheddar style cheese which locals often referred to as ‘White Leicester’ cheese.
With the ending of wartime controls in the 1950s, production of Leicester cheese, made with Annatto – resumed and to avoid confusion with what was considered to be the inferior White Leicester, was commonly referred to as Red Leicester cheese.
Due to farms becoming smaller, the need for smaller local cheeses became less popular the decline of many cheeses has been a concern for decades with many either becoming obsolete or simply falling out of favour such as Wenslydale.
However a few cheese makers are bringing them back to the fore and traditional making of flat wheeled Leicestershire cheese resumed on a small farm in Sparkenhoe in 2002 and has since been followed by Long Clawson Dairy and Quenby Hall, who both produce Stilton cheese.
Red Leicester is a rusty red hard pressed cheese which is aged from 3-12 months of age.
The traditionally made wheels tend to be firmer and drier but have a friable texture and a slightly sweet mellow flavour that becomes stronger as the cheese matures.
Farmhouse Red Leicester tends to have a more complex flavour profile and is generally kept longer than many of the block versions made in larger dairies.