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The rise of cheddar

December 25, 2012

“THEY do take a lot of convincing,” admitted Marie Quatrehomme, an award-winning Parisian cheesemonger, “but once they do, they’re very happy with it.” The problem, she said from her illustrious Left Bank cheese shop, Quatrehomme, is that “cheddar is well-liked by the French once they try it, but at the same time it’s very little known”.

Slowly, though, the French palate — spoiled after being weaned on the ripest brie and most sumptuous camembert — is coming round to the idea of British cheddar. “Its appeal in France lies in its wonderful shape and texture and in the fact that it is very close in appearance to the French cheese cantal and yet has a totally different taste,” says Quatrehomme. “We stock cheddar all year, but I’ve just taken a large order for Christmas and I’m really proud to offer two of the best varieties.”

The rise of cheddar is arguably best exemplified by the success of Cathedral City, made by Dairy Crest and recently voted one of Britain’s favourite brands, which entered the French market five years ago and now sells about a quarter of a million packets every year. Sales in France are up five per cent year on year.

British cheese generally has never been as popular abroad, according to Nigel White, secretary of the British Cheese Board, an education body funded by British cheesemakers. “120,000 tonnes of British cheese was exported last year across the world — more than double the amount 10 years ago,” he said.

Before then, British cheeses were too mild for continental tastes, said White. “Until 1990, about 60 per cent of cheddars made in Britain were mild. Now, two-thirds are mature, which appeal more to countries used to stronger cheeses.”

Stilton has long found foreign favour, and now more than 1,000 tonnes are produced for the export market each year, said White. But these days, that once respectable variety has been dwarfed by cheddar exports, which have reached 35,000 tonnes a year.

Cathedral City’s appeal — to foreigners and Britons alike — is partly based on its packets being emblazoned with an olde-worlde church, and customers probably imagine the cheese is churned by God-fearing monks in a monastery in some ancient English town. In fact, it is made on an industrial scale in Davidstow, Cornwall, which does not have a cathedral and is not a city. — The Guardian, London