Wensleydale cheese is a cheese produced in the town of Hawes in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, England. There are five main types.
The Wensleydale pastures give the cheese the unique flavour for which it is renowned. Good Wensleydale has a supple, crumbly, moist texture and resembles a young Caerphilly. The flavour suggests wild honey balanced with a fresh acidity.
Wensleydale cheese was first made by French Cistercian monks from the Roquefort region, who had settled in Wensleydale. They built a monastery at Fors, but some years later the monks moved to Jervaulx in Lower Wensleydale. They brought with them a recipe for making cheese from sheep's milk. During the 1300s cows' milk began to be used instead, and the character of the cheese began to change. A little ewes' milk was still mixed in since it gave a more open texture, and allowed the development of the blue mould. At that time, Wensleydale was almost always blue with the white variety almost unknown. Nowadays, the opposite is true, with blue Wensleydale rarely seen. When the monastery was dissolved in 1540 the local farmers continued making the cheese right up until the Second World War, during which most milk in the country was used for the making of "Government Cheddar". Even after rationing ceased in 1954, cheese making did not return to pre-war levels.
Wensleydale Creamery has been hand crafting cheese for more than 100 years to time-honoured traditional recipes.
In May 1992, Dairy Crest, a subsidiary of the Milk Marketing Board, closed the Hawes creamery with the loss of 59 jobs. This was the last creamery in the dale. Dairy Crest transferred production of Wensleydale cheese to Yorkshire's traditional rival, Lancashire.
Six months later, in November 1992, following many offers to rescue the Creamery, a management buyout took place, led by local businessman, John Gibson, and the management team. With the help of eleven members of the former workforce, cheese making recommenced in Wensleydale. Today Wensleydale Dairy Products is a thriving business, producing award-winning cheeses. It employs 190 local people and buys from 36 farms in Wensleydale.
In the 1990s, sales had fallen so low that production was at risk of being suspended. However, the popular Wallace and Gromit animated shorts A Grand Day Out and A Close Shave had the main character Wallace, a cheese connoisseur, mention Wensleydale as a particularly favourite cheese. Animator Nick Park chose it solely because it had a good name that would be interesting to animate, unaware of the company's financial difficulties. The company contacted Aardman Animations about a licence for a special brand of "Wallace and Gromit Wensleydale", which proved to be an enormous success. When the 2005 full-length Wallace and Gromit film, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was released, sales of Wensleydale cheeses jumped by 23%.
Wensleydale Dairy Products is seeking to protect the Wensleydale Cheese name from other manufacturers, following the announcement that it is to make a submission for Protected designation of origin for Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) aims to promote and protect food products in the European Union, and is used to describe foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how. This will mean that any manufacturers outside Wensleydale will be unable to call a cheese Yorkshire Wensleydale.
The application process involves the first stage submission and approval by DEFRA after which the application is submitted to the European Union.
The flavour of Wensleydale is suited to combination with sweeter produce, such as fruit. A popular combination available in many restaurants and delicatessens is Wensleydale containing cranberries. In the north-east of England it is often consumed with fruit cake or Christmas cake.
The Wensleydale Creamery is one of the leading producers of genuine Wensleydale cheese in the UK.