Originally cheese made in the Severn Vale was made from the milk of Cotswold Sheep. As early as 1498 so much cheese was being made in Gloucester that a permanent market was set up in Eastgate Street in the City of Gloucester. This is still the site of Gloucester’s indoor market today.
By Tudor times cows milk was the norm across the Vale of Berkeley and down to Bristol. This came mainly from Old Gloucester cows whose milk was ideal for cheesemaking with small fat globules that made a fine even textured cheese. In 1745 cattle plague all but wiped out the breed and was replaced by the Longhorn. Once re-stocked, farms began to supply more liquid milk into London. In 1789 production of Gloucester cheese was estimated at more than 1,000 tonnes.
Production had all but stopped by the end of the 19th century due to low priced imports and the easier profit made by selling fresh milk.
Double or Single?
There are two types of Gloucester cheese – Double and Single. Various stories exist as to how the two cheeses differ. Was it due to the double skimming required of milk from Gloucester cows (cream rose slowly therefore had to be done twice)? Was it related to the size of the cheese? Was it the fact that Double had cream added taken from the morning’ milk and added to the evening milk for making? Was it because Single Gloucester was half the size of a Double Gloucester?
Single Gloucester used to be made from the partially skimmed milk remaining and as such was made smaller than the standard 20 inch wide and 5 inches high Double Gloucester. Singles were typically the same diameter but about half the height. Maybe it is a combination of these factors and clearly demonstrated the difference between the two – by size and flavour.
Whereas the Double Gloucester was a prized cheese comparable in quality to the best Cheddar or Cheshire, and was exported out of the County, Single Gloucester tended to be consumed within the County.
There are still a few makers producing Single Gloucester – Charles Martell, Smart’s, Godsell’s Church Farm and Wick Court Cheese – all in the County – all of whom also make Double Gloucester. This Single Gloucester is an EU PDO and is made from whole milk and probably bears little resemblance to the Single Gloucester described above. According to the specification it is a flat, disc shaped, hard cheese of natural colour made from cows milk in the County of Gloucestershire and producers of the cheese must have a registered herd of Gloucester cows the milk from which is used to make the cheese.
The cheese is still made in the traditional shape using the traditional method and skills. After the addition of starter culture and rennet to the milk, the curds are cut and scalded at a temperature of 32-35°C with the whey for 20-30 minutes. The whey is then drained away leaving the curd which is milled and salted. The cheese is then moulded and mechanically pressed for up to 5 days and is ready for consumption at around 2 months. Single Gloucester was sometimes known as the haymaker’s cheese; as it was matured for a short time it was ready for eating by farm labourers during the haymaking season.
Double Gloucester cheese is made in many parts of the UK both on farms and in large dairies. It has a characteristic light orange hue given by the addition of annatto to the milk. This has been a traditional characteristic of the cheese since the 16th century when producers of inferior cheese used a colouring agent to replicate the orange hue achieved by the best cheesemakers who were probably making the cheese from the morning's milking to which was added the separated cream of the previous evening's milking. During the summer months the high levels of carotene in the grass would have given the milk an orangey colour which was carried through into the cheese. This orange hue was regarded as an indicator of the best cheese and that is why the custom of adding annatto spread to other parts of the UK with Cheshire and Red Leicester cheese as well as Coloured Cheddar made in Scotland all using this natural dye.
Double Gloucester is made in traditional wheels with a natural rind on some farms whilst in larger dairies it would be made in 20 kg blocks which make the cheese ideal for pre-packing.
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.
Most Double Gloucester is sold at about 4 months of age and has a firm close texture and a clean mellow, creamy or buttery flavour. Older cheeses will develop more complex and nutty flavours.
The farm made cheeses tend to be kept a little longer adding to their flavour and where the cheese is cloth bound they are significantly harder and drier than their creamery counterparts and generally more expensive.