Quite staggeringly popular in the manor, squire – Illchester cheese

Part of the reason for starting this blog was to help me learn about cheese and a bit of history and background, as well as finding out how they taste.

I saw Ilchester at the local cheese store and jumped at the chance to give it ago. My entire knowledge about Ilchester can be summed up by the following:
“And pray what is the most popular cheese ‘round these parts?”
“Illchester, Sir.”
“Illchester Eh?”
“Quite staggeringly popular in the manor, squire.”
“Do you have any Ilchester, he asked expecting the answer no.”
“mmmmmmmm…….No.”
Sorry, the cheese shop sketch was going to show up at some point so let’s get it over early.

For some reason, I thought this a venerable old cheese from the home counties but it is actually from Somerset, England and was created way back in 1962.

According to legend, or the company website at least, Ken Seaton, a hotelier in the town of Ilchester in Somerset combined local cheddar cheese with chives, Worthington Bitter beer and a blend of spices. The cheese was such a hit that a small cheese company was born. Today, Ilchester Cheese produces a variety of cheeses although the signature Ilchester Beer Cheese is perhaps best known. Probably in large part because of Monty Python.

The cheese itself is a medium and light coloured cheddar. It doesn’t have the sharp taste you might expect, but a mellower lighter one, although it retains all the texture of a medium cheddar. The cheese also contains a number of spices that give the cheese its distinctive black flecks. The beer taste is quite obvious although not over-powering. At first blush, it is a bit of an odd taste. And on its own it might be a bit a strange taste. But once I had a mouth full of beer, it certainly picked up a different personality and paired perfectly thereafter.

The cheese is made with cow’s milk in the traditional cheddar way. Today, Ilchester is made with Fuller’s Ale which is added at the later stage of production along with some spices, which in KFC parlance, are a secret blend. The cheese is aged and then the wheels are wrapped in black wax.

Ploughman’s lunches are a favourite treat when I get back to England, although these days you are likely to get brie and an apple as you are cheddar and branston pickle. Still if you to make yourself a proper ploughman’s lunch, then this cheese would be a great choice…goes well with pickles, crusty bread and, of course, a pint of beer.

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