What are my special features?
Originally known as Leicestershire cheese and crumblier than Cheddar, Red Leicester is a russet-red hard pressed cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk. The bright orange-red rind has fine, powdery moulds and the distinctive colour is a result of annatto being added. The cheese is traditionally made in large flat wheels which tend to be firmer, drier and have a crumbly texture with a slightly sweet, mellow, almost caramel flavour that becomes stronger as the cheese matures.
It can be sold at anything from 3 months to 12 months of age. It can be eaten young but should ideally be left to mature. A good Red Leicester has a firm body and a close, flaky texture. The flavour is delicately sweet. During maturation the cheese is bound in cloth. A substantially lighter cloth than normal is used, contributing to its unique flavour.
What is my history?
The cheese can be traced back to the 17th century and its style was influenced by cheese making practices within the South West and North West of England. Most of the cheese was traded in the town of Leicester, resulting in a cheese market being established in the city. The importance of this market almost certainly led to the alternative name for this cheese even though there was little cheese made in the boundaries of the City of Leicester.
Dying the cheese distinguished it from other county cheeses such as Cheddar and was also used to represent the characteristics of a high quality cheese which had a high cream content. To maintain the high standards that were expected within the market, a town crier was employed to read the punishments for anybody found trying to pass off inferior cheese. The cheese was often made in conjunction with Stilton, due to the differing maturation periods which allowed a steadier income flow for producers.
Production of the cheese shifted to other parts of the UK as cheese making on farms within the country disappeared, with some being made in block form by larger creameries.
Why am I forgotten?
Only a very few farms in Leicestershire make Red Leicester to a traditional recipe using raw milk, given the difficulties surrounding legislation about raw milk and the proximity between dairy and creamery which this method requires.
Don’t lose me…cook me!