If you have an urge to experience the contrasting textures, aromas and taste of British cheese this holiday season look no further then Hawes Wensleydale and Hafod.
Both cheeses fit the bill when I think of the great British cheeses. They are made from cow’s milk in a relatively large form and they are bandage wrapped — also known as “Clothbound.” In the case of these cheeses that’s were the similarities end.
Wensleydale has its roots in the late 17th century in north Yorkshire in the small town of Hawes. While it is not a farmhouse cheese, it still retains much of its former glory thanks to many people over the years. In recent years, the charge to carry on the Wensleydale tradition has been taken up by Wensleydale Creamery and Neal’s Yard Dairy.
The bandaged version of Wensleydale is creamy and a little crumbly. Some of the more mass produced versions are really crumbly and they have a gritty mouth feel.
Hawes Wensleydale is aged three to four months. The flavor is bright and lactic but not overly acidic. Even with this fact, it still has a hint of a lemony tang on the finish. The flavor could be described as clean.
Since holidays are approaching quickly, I have to mention that Wensleydale and fruitcake are a classic combination. The light, creamy and tangy cheese marries well with the rich sweetness of the cake. In England you can buy a box with Wensleydale cheese and local fruitcake together. But here in Kansas City, I would suggest a Missouri-made Assumption Abbey fruitcake with your Wensleydale.
In contrast to the Wensleydale, Hafod shows the other side of the British cheese making tradition. Hafod (pronounced Ha-vod) is still a bandage wrapped cheese, but it is a cheddar-style cheese that is aged for about a year. It is made with organic raw milk from a small heard of Ayrshire cows. This is farmhouse cheese making at its finest.
After the year of aging Hafod has become hard, rich, nutty and sharp and nothing about it resembles the light and tangy flavors of Wensleydale. The deepness of flavor is impressive and a savory characteristic of broth is present.
In some wheels, you will notice a little blue mold around the edges of the cheese. Don’t let this frighten you, this is very common in this type of cheese and in many cases the flavor is very pleasant.
Hafod is made by Sam and Rachel Holden in Wales and the name is actually a Welsh word that means summer pasture. The cheese is based on a cheese made about 20 years ago.
Check out this video about the production of Hafod. The video is made by Neal’s Yard Dairy, which is many times credited with saving the British artisan cheese industry from extinction. Neal’s purveys and ages British cheese in London. There is some inside baseball in the video but it’s still great for everyone.
Come see me if you would like to try some of these delicious cheeses!
Lincoln Broadbooks loves cheese. He is one of the first cheesemongers in the United States and Canada to become an American Cheese Society-certified cheese professional. He is the manager and buyer for the Better Cheddar in Prairie Village. You can find him on Twitter @LincolnBbooks and on Instagram @lincycheese.