British

The Little-Known British Cheese That Was Crowned World Champion

And the charming, breathtaking county it comes from.

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February 13, 2019

We've partnered with VisitBritain to bring you delicious ideas on what to do, see—and of course, eat—in Cornwall, and beyond! Stay tuned for more travel tips to help you plan your very own British adventure.

Last year, the top honor at the annual World Cheese Awards didn't go to a French Brie, Dutch Gouda, or Italian Parmesan. Nope—that award went to a fairly little-known British cow's milk cheese called Kern, made in Southwest England in the county of Cornwall.

Rural and rustic, marked by steep cliffs which drop off into the sea, Cornwall is a pretty magical place. I visited the county for the first time earlier this year, when my parents came to see me and my husband in our new home of London. We knew we wanted to go somewhere else in the UK together during their 2-week trip, and had heard friends raving about the epic hiking in Cornwall. So we packed up our hiking boots and boarded the six-hour train ride to Penzance from London Paddington Station.

Our week in Cornwall far exceeded expectations in every way (views and brews for the win!), and a highlight of the trip was our stop at Lynher Dairies in Truro, an artisan cheesemaking facility where cheeses are made by hand in open vats using full-fat milk from doted-upon Cornish cows. There—seemingly in the middle of nowhere—we got to taste the “Supreme Champion” Cornish Kern straight from the source.

Kern is a nutty and savory farmhouse cheese with sweet endnotes, encased in a breathable black wax and aged for over a year. Though it was inspired by Gouda, it’s also reminiscent of Comté or Gruyère thanks to the Alpine-style cultures used in its making. Kern beat out the other 3,500 cheeses in the competition (no small feat!) to win the top honor at the World Cheese Awards, and while it's undeniably delicious, I must admit that there was a different cheese that captured our hearts during the visit: the semi-firm and slightly crumbly Cornish Yarg. Wrapped in either nettle or wild garlic leaves (they make two varieties), I preferred this cheese partially for its flavor, partially for its story and quirkiness, and partially for the fact that those who live in Cornwall are so darn proud of it.

The cheese I love even more than Cornish Kern—Yarg. Photo by Katie Quinn

The recipe for a cheese mold-ripened with the help of nettle leaves was found in a book that dates back to the 16th century, but it was more recently, in the 1980s, when a Cornish man named Alan Gray found the recipe and decided to try it out, with his own spin. He had the idea to actually adhere the nettle leaves to the cheese to create a rind, allowing the enzymes in the nettle leaves work their magic. Mr. Gray’s recipe was a hit, and Lynher Dairies is now the sole producer of Cornish Yarg (which is Gray spelled backwards). I’m not the only one who has fallen for Yarg...it has become a favorite around the UK and increasingly, internationally too! It arguably put Cornwall on the map as a modern artisan culinary contender.

My family was thrilled to experience cheese-making firsthand, to witness the whey separating from the curds, to press the curds together between their fingers, the ensuing transformation (with the help of fermentation and maturation) into cheese to enjoy. My parents' favorite experience at the dairy was affixing the individual nettle leaves to the naked Yarg wheels by hand and then seeing how the mold so gorgeously grows between them after the wheel has been matured. “Wow, England!” was the general sense of approval about these British-born cheeses.

I was surprised to discover a cheese I loved even more than "the best cheese in the world," but I wasn't surprised at all by how amazing British continental cheeses could be. That's because I used to work at London’s preeminent cheese shop, Neal’s Yard Dairy, where I had been seduced by gooey Baron Bigod, enticed by crumbly Lancashire, and impressed by my ever-increasing adoration for Stichelton. From its cheese counter, NYD sells the best farmhouse cheeses the British Isles have to offer, and I tasted my way through them all, comparing wheels of the same cheese but varied maturation or conditions, learning with every nibble. While they may not have all been crowned "Supreme Champion," I can say with great certainty that they’re some of the best cheeses I’ve ever eaten.

  • Kirkham’s Lancashire: Slightly sour yet buttery in flavor, this is an easy eating crumbly cheese. I first tasted this at my orientation to work at Neal’s Yard Dairy and it opened the door to the artisan British cheeses I would soon fall in love with.
  • Lincolnshire Poacher: Nutty and sweet, pliant and golden yellow, this cheddar is a sure winner for anyone who adores French Comté.
  • Innes Brick: This is a goat’s milk cheese that’s delicate and acidic when young, but increasingly flavorful and slightly nutty with age. It dissolves on your tongue, leaving traces of the Staffordshire grass the goats munched on.
  • Baron Bigod: If you like Brie, you will love this bloomy-rind cow’s milk cheese. At room temperature, it essentially melts on the cheese plate.
  • Red Leicester: This cheese is almost meaty in its firm, savory experience, with a saturated burnt-orange coloring. If that sounds intriguing but not entirely appealing, go with Appleby’s Cheshire, which is an inviting almost-caramel yellow; it's more acidic and representative of the best of British farmhouse cheese.
  • Stichelton: A raw cow’s milk cheese, this blue cheese is strong in taste—varying from acidic to toasted—and fondant-like in texture. It’s a national favorite around the holidays (along with its pasteurized milk brethren, Colston Bassett Stilton).

From London to Edinburgh, Cornwall to Yorkshire, there's so much to do, see, eat, and experience all across the United Kingdom. In partnership with VisitBritain, we're so excited to share our favorite unexpected discoveries to help inspire your very own British adventure. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @lovegreatbritain and what Great Britain is eating at @greatbritishfood.

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1 Comment

CelliSean February 18, 2019
Stichelton is my absolute favorite blue! Glad to hear about someone else enjoying it! Stilton doesn't quite compare.