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BritishCheese1There is a vast choice of cheese available in Britain, either home-produced or imported from the Continent. These include hard, semi-soft and creamy cheeses. This wide choice brings its own problems, however, and since supermarkets have largely replaced the family grocer, who knew each customer's likes and dislikes, the housewife must rely on her own judgement when surrounded by a wide variety of cheeses, some of them unknown to her.

A minority of shops nowadays cut from the whole cheese as and when the customer requires. It is more usual, especially in self-service supermarkets, for the whole cheese to be cut in advance into pieces of varying weight which are then wrapped and put on display.

Since the smaller the piece of cheese the more quickly it will dry out, there is more chance of buying a stale piece when cheese is cut in advance, although the supermarkets argue that with a high turn-over of dairy and a vigilant staff this should not occur.

However, when buying from either the whole cheese, or a ready-cut pre-packed piece, avoid anything which looks too dry, too hard, too soft and, especially if pre-packed, cheese which looks as if it has been 'sweated'.

Suspect any piece of cheese,particularly the 'hard-pressed' varieties such as English Cheddar, Leicester or Gloucester, which show numerous cracks running in from the edges, or which have a marked difference in colour between the centre and edge. These are sure signs that it is not fresh and has started to dry out.

Once a cheese has matured it does not improve with keeping, especially when cut, so buy from day to day if possible rather than stocking up with a fortnight's supply.

Ideally, cheese should be kept in a plastic container in a cool larder, but if this is not possible a fridge is the next best place.

Never serve either hard-pressed or soft cheese direct from the fridge. Cold temperatures mask the flavour of most food and cheese is no exception.

Instead, take it from the fridge at least one hour before it is to be eaten and serve it at room temperature - like the red wine which accompanies cheese so well.

Ayrshire soft cheese - This Scottish cheese has a soft and creamy texture. It has a nutty, slightly salty flavour, and is perfect as a table cheese with oatcakes or crispbread and butter.

BritishCheese2Caboc - A rich, soft, full cream cheese. Caboc is seldom seen south of Scotland. Pales, almost pure white on the inside, it is rolled in toasted oatmeal, and is best eaten spread on biscuits with no butter.

Caerphilly - A moist, white cheese with a mild, slightly salty flavour. Caerphilly is easily digestible and can be eaten in larger quantise than most other cheeses. Matures in one month.

Caithness - A medium to strong tasting cheese which spreads and slices well. Caithness has a soft yellow colour and is often tartan wrapped. It matures early (traditionally in 60 days) and is best when comparatively young.

BritishCheese6Cheddar - This is probably the most popular of all English cheeses - certainly the best known and most widely sold. English Cheddar has a strong yellow colour and a close, creamy texture. Its full, nutty flavour, varying in strength, makes it a good all-purpose cheese. At its best at six months old. Scottish cheddar has a firmer texture than English and often a stronger flavour, a red version is much sought after in Scotland.

Imported Australian and New Zealand Cheddar cheeses are deeper yellow than English Cheddar and have a milder flavour.

Canadian Cheddar is similar in colour, texture and flavour to English. The strongest Canadian Cheddar is Black Diamond, made from unpasteurised milk.

Canadian Wine Cheddar is a moist cheese, matured with red wine.

Cheshire - The oldest British cheese, Cheshire has a savoury, mellow and slightly salty taste. White Cheshire is really pale yellow in colour. Red Cheshire is coloured with a vegetable dye which makes it look more like Red Leicester. An excellent cheese for grilling.

BritishCheese8Blue Cheshire - This cheese is a rarity since it has to be kept under special conditions to develop the blue veining inside. It is more expensive than ordinary Cheshire and has a stronger flavour, similar to Stilton.

Cottage Cheese - Made from skimmed milk curds, cottage cheese is low in calories due to its low fat content. It is almost pure white, with a mild bland flavour.

Crowdie - A Scottish type of cottage cheese, made from Skimmed milk. The grains are finer than those of ordinary cottage cheese and have a mild, fresh flavour. High in protein.

Derby - Honey-coloured and close-textured, Derby cheese has to mature for at least six months for its mild, distinctive flavour to develop to the full.

Sage Derby - This is a variation of Derby with the same characteristics. Copped fresh sage is incorporated in layers during the cheese-making and compliments the mild flavour. In scant supply, Derby cheese is not recommended for cooking.

BritishCheese17Dunlop - A moist Scottish cheese, rather like English Cheddar but with a softer texture and usually milder in flavour. It has the colour of pale butter. Good for grilling.

Gloucester - Properly Double Gloucester, the flavour varies according to maturity. It may be mellow and creamy, or have a distinct 'bite' to it. It should never be pungent. Traditionally, Double Gloucester cheese was the colour of Guernsey milk, but today artificial colouring gives it a rich golden hue. Matured for between three and six months, it has a firm, smooth texture. Serve with crusty bread.

Hramsa - Made from double cream, this Scottish soft cheese is flavoured with wild garlic gathered in the Highlands. Serve as a dessert cheese.

Lancashire - One of the best cheese for cooking because of its high fat content, Lancashire has a crumbly texture and an off-white colour. As its best it spreads like butter. Excellent for Welsh Rabbit or grated for topping soups and dishes to be grilled au gratin.

Leicester - One of the milder cheeses, a true Leicester is characterised by its flaky texture. More compressed varieties, often called Red Leicester because of the orange-red colouring of the rind, are made nowadays. Good for cooking, at its best when three months old, but dries out quickly.

BritishCheese18Morven - A mild Scottish cheese made in small squares and with a full flavour and texture somewhat similar to that of Dutch Gouda. It is also sometimes available with a flavouring of caraway seeds.

Red Windsor - One of the lesser known English cheeses, Red Windsor has a crumbly texture and a flavour similar to that of mild cheddar. It is best eaten with biscuits or salads, not recommended for cooking.

Stilton - Between the distinctive patches of blue mould, Stilton - the king of chesses - should be a rich creamy colour, not white which is a sign of immaturity. It is at its best between November and April and has a strong, sometimes tangy, lingering taste. Although Stilton dries out very quickly do not be tempted by tradition to soak it in port since this will only mask its true flavour. Best eaten with biscuits, and with a glass of port to accompany it.

Wensleydale - Crumbly in texture, Wensleydale varies in colour from white to creamy-yellow, but has a consistently mild taste. In the North it is traditionally served with apple pie. It is also good for cooking.

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