A Bit of History
This style of cheese was first made by French monks from the Roquefort region, who had settled in the Yorkshire Dales during the 12th century. They built a monastery and brought with them a recipe for making cheese from sheep's milk. Having come from the Roquefort area, it would be a reasonable expectation that this cheese might have been very similar to the base cheese for their Roquefort cheese, but there seems to be no record of this.
As the land was cleared into broad valley pastures into the 14th century, cows' milk began to be used instead, and the character of the cheese began to change. A little ewes' milk was still mixed in, since it gave a more open texture, and allowed the development of the blue mold. At that time, Wensleydale was almost always blue, while the white variety was almost unknown.
Wensleydale® was originally a seasonal cheese, made in farmhouses throughout the dales of North Yorkshire. In the early 1900s, there were hundreds of farms in these valleys. An interesting note is that the rennet used was made locally from the vells of the cows, and still referred to as prezzur, directly taken from the French présure used by the Monks that made the cheese originally.
As production increased over the years, the blue Wensleydale® was rarely seen. The monastery was dissolved in 1540 but the local farmers continued making the cheese right up until the Second World War.
Towards the end of the 1800s, a merchant named Edward Chapman, who had been buying cheese of varying quality, decided to take control by buying the milk from the cheese making farmers and making the cheese himself. Farmers found it easier to sell liquid milk than make it into cheese and some might argue that the advent of this large creamery reduced the number of cheese makers in the region. This large dairy in the small village of Hawes became known as the Hawes Creamery and was the primary producer of Wensleydale® cheese..
Beginning as early as 1933, prior to World War II, the government controls of cheese making demanded that most milk in the country was directed to the making of "Government Cheddar."