Gloucestershire is renowned for its fine produce and specialities. When you fancy an al fresco lunch, nothing could be finer than some fresh crusty bread, farm butter, Gloucester cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles with a glass of pure apple juice or a glass of cider made from Gloucestershire’s ancient orchards. This combination of foods is known throughout the UK as a “Ploughman’s lunch”.
Gloucester has always been a large cheese making area and was originally made from the milk of Cotswold Sheep. In the 1400’s the production rates were so high that a permanent market was set up at Eastgate Street in the City of Gloucester. This is still the site of Gloucester’s indoor market today.
By the time of the Tudors, cow’s milk had replaced sheep milk which came from Old Gloucester cows whose milk was ideal for cheese making with small fat globules that made a fine even textured cheese. A cattle plague decimated the breed and Longhorn cattle were introduced. Gloucester cheese production in 1789 was more than 1000 tonnes.
There are two types of Gloucester cheese – Double and Single. Various stories exist as to how the two cheeses differ. It was likely to be that the Double Gloucester cheese had double handling with cream from the morning milk added to the evening milk as Gloucester cow’s milk has to be skimmed twice as the cream rises so slowly.
Single Gloucester was made from the partially skimmed milk remaining. There are still a few makers producing Single Gloucester – Charles Martell, Smart’s, Godsell’s Church Farm and Wick Court Cheese. They also make Double Gloucester. This Single Gloucester is an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese and may only be described as Single Gloucester if it is made in the county with milk from Gloucester Cows. The farms where these cheeses are made can be visited so go along and have a taste of the cheeses and bring some home for lunch.
Double Gloucester cheese is now made in many parts of the UK both on farms and in large dairies. It has a characteristic light orange hue is given by the addition of annatto to the milk.
Flavour levels depend on the age of the cheese. As it matures Double Gloucester becomes very hard and this may be one of the reasons why it is associated with the annual cheese rolling event at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester. It is said that buyers of Double and Single Gloucester would often jump up and down on the cheese to assess its grade and suitability.
The beautiful cider produced in Gloucestershire is no surprise as Gloucestershire is home to over 100 unique apple varieties. One particular cider apple the “Hagloe Crab” was so renowned for the quality of cider it produced that a barrel of apples could be exchanged for a barrel of Brandy!
Gloucestershire was the birthplace of in-bottle fermentation or ‘méthode champenoise’, the technique used to this day for Champagne production, records of method predate any found in France by some 50 years. The sparkling varieties of cider are as exquisite as any fine wines and ideal to go with your delicious summer “Ploughman’s”.