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Red Lester

Actually, the proper name for the cheese is spelled as Red Leicester, or Leicestershire,
but it comes out sounding like "Red Lester when they say it.

This was actually a cheese I avoided until I saw and tasted it at Neals Yard's booth in Bra Italy, at the Slow Foods "Cheese" festival a couple of years ago.

I originally expected it to be more like a cheddar variation, but found it to be quite different in both texture and moisture, as well as a bit more tangy in flavor. Plus, it has that eye catching deep red/orange color.

Notice how that color darkens even more near the surface as it tends to age and dry a bit more.

Say what you will about colored cheese but this one really shows well!

Leicestershire is a county that sits right about in the middle of England (maybe why it is referred to as the midlands).
If I mention the names of the largest towns in the county, you would probably not recognize the names unless you lived there, but I think you might know one of its most famous cheese as Stilton, and after reading this page hopefully Red Leicester will be on your radar.

Red Leicester is a deep and unusual russet red, with a flaky and silky texture quite different from cheddar. It may also show with a slightly open interior. The flavor is savory with a slight nutty edge that finishes quite smooth and rich.

The deep red/orange color is the result of a pigment called annatto, that is added to the milk. The color is derived naturally from the achiote seed found in South America and has none of the health issues associated with some other food coloring agents. The annatto colorant is also referred to as roucou.

Today's traditionally made Red Leicesters, from some of the better producers such as Sparkenhoe, Long Clawson and Quenby Hall dairies, will have a drier texture and a mellower flavor. Many of the more commercial examples seem to be more in line with the cheddars that they make.

This cheese was historically known, and in it's rebirth known again, for it's complex and intriguing flavor, but at the same time balanced and smooth. It has a very full body and a flavor that lasts long but has none of the bite of an aged cheddar. The texture is moist but chewy and firm.

Formerly known as Leicester, or Leicestershire cheese, this is a hard cows’ milk cheese, possibly predating the cheddar name, when regional cheeses were made throughout the British Isles.
By comparison, it varies from Cheddar in that the Red Leicester has a moister, crumblier texture and a milder flavor.

Aged Leicestershire Red is normally larded, cloth-bound and matured for six months to produce a flaky, open texture cheese with a slightly sweet, caramelized flavor and rich golden orange color.

What makes the cheese so much different than cheddar (besides the red coloration) is the smaller cut and lower scald temp and cook time. The small cut reminds me more of the Italian Parma and Alpine style cheeses, but the cook temperature is much lower than cheddar, leaving a residual moistness in the final cheese. The scald or cook time is also much less for a higher final moisture.
Red Leicester matures faster than Cheddar, and may be sold as young as two months old, although the handful of traditional Red Leicester producers who still remain, age their cheeses for somewhat longer (6-9 months and even longer).

Red Leicester method of making was influenced by traditional cheese-making practices. It came about as a means to use up surplus and leftover milk from Stilton production, as it was a cheese that could last a little longer. Traditionally it was made by the Stilton dairies and local farms (and sometimes it still is).

A Bit of History:

Leicestershire established its cheese making independence from the Cheshire-producing counties, sometime before the 1700's. In the south of the county, some villages were locally famous for the quality of their cheese. A 1790 report prized them above the newer cheese, Stilton, although Stilton itself had more national recognition.

The first factory to make Leicester was established in 1875, following which, farmhouse production slowly declined. Cheese making in Leicestershire mirrored that of the country as a whole, in that it diminished from about the 1850's as England became more industrial. It suffered further during the First and Second World Wars, to the extent that there were no farms documented in Leicestershire in the 1938-39 register. By 1938' there were no recorded farms making Red Leicester, yet local reports suggest that some small farm production continued until 1956. The final straw, however, was the inception of England's Milk Marketing Board which controlled what milk was to be used for cheese during, and well after, the two World Wars. Milk could not be used for most traditional cheeses such as Red Leicester.

This is the same pattern that occurred here in America after the first cheese factory was built in New York State in 1851, which resulted in a steady decline in farm made cheese from the 1920's until the 1980's. Fortunately, with the resurgence of artisan and farmstead cheese making following the "back to the land movement" of the 60's and 70's, things have been steadily changing in America. This dry period entailed several generations of farm folks not practicing the skills of cheese making on the farm, skills that had been brought to the New World by their family. Much of what was known had been forgotten by the 1980's, leaving it up to today's cheese makers to lay out a new and richer table of cheeses crafted by artisans. The same as in England.

The Rebirth of Red Leicester:

Fortunately, on the Sparkenhoe Farm situated in the Leicestershire area of England, David and Jo Clarke seem to remember that production of this cheese continued, although unrecorded. They remembered local reports of farm-made Red Leicester from about 1956. Some Leicester was still made in factories during the Second World War, but as coloring was not permitted, it became a pale shadow of its former self.

Factory Red Leicester continued in the latter half of the 20th century, but by the time Patrick Rance (one my favorite champions of real cheese) was writing his Great British Cheese Book in 1982, the Red Leicester was only produced as a pasteurized cheese, and in many cases not very inspiring. However, there were some cases from high quality farms that did produce good examples for a while but they were hard to find in shops.

All this was to change in November 2005, because David and Jo Clarke from Sparkenhoe Farm (the good looking folks in the pictures here!) decided to revive cheese making on their farm and make a traditional, cloth bound Red Leicester.
Their research had shown that Red Leicester had been made on Sparkenhoe Farm back in 1745 by a Mr George Chapman. The Chapmans ceased cheese making in 1875, and the farm did not produce cheese again until David and Jo revived the tradition. David and Jo Clarke both have a dairy farming background, since their families have farmed in the area for generations. They have a herd of 150 Friesian-Holsteins, whose unpasteurized milk they used for this cheese.

They make cheese using traditional animal rennet and the cheeses are molded to the traditional shape (roughly 20 inches across and 6 inches deep) and bound in cloth and lard.

Even though it might have been possible to find a Red Leicestershire (or maybe not so Red), it took the one I saw at the Slow Foods festival in Bra Italy made by David and Jo Clarke to make me stop and pay attention to the Red Lester.

In my book, that makes the Sparkenhoe cheese a piece of history and you have to love and respect that.

About the Red:

Why do they make a RED cheese??

People knew that when the best cows were out at pasture, in the spring and summer the fat in their milk would pick up a pigment from the grass called beta-carotene (which is abundant in fresh pasture, but not so much in winter feed such as silage and hay).

The beta-carotene gives full-fat pasture-fed cows’ milk a yellow/red tinge. And not only does this mean full-fat pasture-fed milk is the best, most flavorsome milk, that flavor translates into better more flavorful cheeses. And with it, goes the yellow color. Hence, the best cheeses were considered to be richer yellow in color, and this was something the discerning cheese buyers were looking for.
It was said, “White Leicester was not to be accepted by London customers”.
So that traditionally, highly colored cheese indicated 2 specifics that quality customers desired:

  1. That the cows had been raised on good pasture, since it was the beta carotene from the grasses that made that natural color.
  2. That the milk was higher in fat, since the natural coloring is only carried by the butterfat. So originally, (before color additions) more color indicated more fat and a richer tasting cheese.

So, before long, more and more color was added so as not to be outdone by their neighbors, until actually a deep red hue was achieved. Although this is obviously not the same as the yellow hue from pasture fed animals, this red tinge helped them stand out from the crowd. It also distinguished them from their other territorial counterparts. And so it became that certain cheeses became synonymous with this color, resulting in a demand for ‘red’ cheeses and thus was born the Red in Leicestershire.

There's evidence of coloring cheeses found in many of these counties dating as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries. These counties traditionally used all sorts of coloring agents to add color to their cheese: carrot juice, turmeric, marigold petals and even homegrown saffron.

Red Leicester is colored with a vegetable dye called annatto, which gives the cheese its distinctive deep-orange hue. This practice, which is not unique to Red Leicester (Cheshire, Shropshire Blue, etc), originated in the days when a deep color was held to denote a cheese made from rich, creamy milk. Annatto is used to give the impression of a high quality cheese which has a high cream content and summer pasture raised herds.

A Recipe for making your own Red Lester

If you have made a few cheeses like cheddar, this one should be within your comfort zone.
I highly recommend making the larger versions of 4-6 gallons and finish with the bandaging.
It could be waxed but just won't be the same.
To make a smaller or larger version simply alter the ingredients proportionately.
The press weight will be proportionate to your surface area compared to the mold I use here.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 6 gallon of milk (Not UltraPasteurized)
  • 1.5 packets of our C101 or 3/8 tsp of our MA011 culture
  • 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) Liquid single strength Rennet
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or skimmer to stir the curds with.
  • Ricki's LargeMold-M2 .. 7-7/8" diameter and 48.7 sq.in. surface area
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • Butter muslin or a natural thin muslin for the bandaging, along with about 1/8-1/4cup melted lard.
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds.
  • A Cheese Press or weights (150 lbs) to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • 2tsp (10ml) Annatto for color
  • 1Calcium Chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by adding the annatto for color.

mix the annatto well, as you can see here it needs a bit of encouragement to blend well with the milk

I found that about 2tsp (10ml) work for this much milk (6 gal).
I found out the hard way that annatto needs to be fresh. I had some a year or two old and it did not color well. When using fresh, the color popped. The way I use it here is to add it to about 1/2 cup of milk, stir it in well, then add it to the milk in your pot and stir well.
You will find that initially it seems light, but remember that this will bind to the fat and solids, and as the whey is released, it will become darker and darker, until post-pressing it should be a full red/orange.

As mentioned above the color will appear pale and needs a good mixing in
It initially shows as a medium cream color as compared to the white piece of paper.

Mix the coloring in well and wait about 5 min before adding the calcium chloride, if using. Most cold stored pasteurized milk needs it, about 1/4tsp per gallon.

Next step is heating the milk to 85F . You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats

Once the milk is at 85F, the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
You may have noticed that the amount of culture seems a bit low, but as mentioned above it is a slightly sweeter cheese and this helps to retain more moisture..

The milk now needs to be kept at this target temperature until it is time to increase for cooking the curds. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 60 minutes to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.

Coagulation with rennet:

Then add the single strength liquid rennet and mix in carefully.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. You may notice the curd thickening at about 15-20 minutes, but allow it to sit quiet to develop a clean break. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.

During this rest is a good time to make sure you have gathered and cleaned/sanitized your draining pan/colander, drain cloths, and forms to be used for pressing as well as setting them up in an area to accommodate the draining whey.

Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once the curd has been tested for a clean break (the proper firmness), then the next step is to cut the curd into small, even pieces to separate the whey from the curd mass. The cut size and time/speed of stirring, as well as cook temperature, will determine the final moisture in the cheese. One of the big differences between this and a cheddar process is that the curds are cut much smaller.
The finished cut will be about 1/4" in size. To accomplish this, I begin with what I call the pre-cut, much like I see in Parma or in the Alpine chalets, but they do it with their main cutting tool followed by the final cut to size.

  1. First the curd is cut in a vertical checkerboard with about 3/4-1" spaces, then allow this to rest for about 5-10 minutes until some whey is seen in the cuts. This tends to give the cut surface a little time to harden for a more efficient cut to the smaller size.
  2. For the final cut to 1/4", I use a tool patterned after the Italian Spino (mine is essentially a large whisk with thin wires and a long handle) but you could use a combo of horizontal and vertical curd knives if you had them (giving you some options here).
    This is used after the brief rest following my pre-cut. The final cut needs to begin very slow and even, paying attention to all parts of the curd mass (especially the corners). Stop cutting when you have the size you need, followed by a brief rest to allow the newly cut pieces to firm up, but do not allow them to consolidate because they need to float freely at the cut size during the stir and scalding session which comes next.

1.) The Initial cut and rest; note the softness of the curd as shown here.

2.) The final cut, note the final curd is slightly larger than 1/4' but will shrink more with the scalding phase.

Cooking the curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 95F. The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3-5F (1C) every 5 minutes at the beginning. The total cooking time will be 45 minutes, and may be extended slightly if the curds are still soft.

The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.

When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey.

Note that compared to Cheddar, the Red Lester curd:

  • is cut smaller
  • is cooked to a lower temperature
  • is not cooked as long

All of these variations make the cheese quite different from cheddar in the end, moister and a bit more crumbly.

Removing the whey:

Once the curds have been cooked and settled briefly, remove the whey down to about 1" above the curd mass.

The dry curds can now be transferred to a drain pan/colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to sit in the whey for 10-15 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the curd mass can consolidate with minimal spaces between them.

The cooked curds ready to be drained .. note the final curd size and how intense the color has become.

After this brief rest the curd is ready to be drained, but needs time remaining warm to continue the conversion of lactose to lactic acid.
Drain the remaining whey and pull the cloth tight wrapping the cheese into a consolidated block for its final rest.
Traditionally these blocks would have been much larger and had their own thermal mass to keep warm. With a smaller cheese I accomplish this by placing a gallon of warm water and a board on top of the resting curd bundle.

If you cut a small piece of curd at this point you will notice that the taste is still somewhat sweet (lactose)

The final curd, drained, wrapped, and tucked in to keep warm during its final phase

Over the next 2-2.5 hours do the following:

  1. In 30 min turn, cut in half, then stack, rewrap and return weight (more warm water will help) .
  2. Then In another 45-60 minutes repeat the above details. At each stage you should note the pieces becoming flatter and the structure changing to a more elongated structure when you break them.
  3. In another hour repeat the above steps but it will be hard to re-stack the uneven pieces; just wrap them in the cloth and reapply the weight. the curds should now seem a bit tougher when tearing.

The taste will begin to change to a neutral or even slight acid note (lactose > lactic acid) . If you have a pH meter that can measure the curd pH go no lower than a pH of 5.3 otherwise go by the taste. Too sweet or too acid and the cheese will be problematic in ripening.

The cheese mass begins to change in character as it rests during this phase

Breaking and Salting:

Once the above rest is complete, reduce to 3/4” pieces and add salt.
The salt will be about 2% by weight expecting about 1/2% to run off as brine.

the final curd broken down for salting .. note the linear aspect to the curd structure in the 2nd photo

My yield for this cheese was about 6.25lbs for the 6 gallons of milk which show more moisture than my normal cheddar (about 6 lbs) and makes me happy as to how this final make went (What?? you only think it takes me one trial to get it right!).

This makes for 2 oz of salt or about 57 grams if you speak metric. Add this in 2-3 doses and mix in well for each dose.


So, for pressing we should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:

  • 2 hrs at 45lbs.
  • 12hrs at 90lbs
  • 12-24hrs at 150lbs

The rate of whey running off begins as a fine stream while the initial flush takes place and quickly turns into a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released.

This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released.

The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly.

When this stops you can increase the weight slightly.

The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, rewrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals. To assure an even consolidation.

At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.

the cheese needs to get all of those little cracks and niches closed and sealed for a proper aging to work

As I mentioned earlier, the color intensifies as the coloring is concentrated in the curd structure with moisture removal.

compare the initial milk/curd color to the final color post press.


Bandaging is the traditional method of finishing this cheese with a cloth protection for aging. You could wax but the end result would be quite different after aging. The cloth makes the surface much more breathable. Once the cheese has undergone a successful pressing it is time to apply the cloth binding.

The bandaging is simply a cloth covering to bind the cheese and protect it during the months of aging. Molds will grow on the surface but the cheese is totally protected and when the bandage is removed the cheese is clean and ready to eat.

The bandage is simply a light cloth that is cut for the shape of the cheese and applied with a slight coat of melted lard for adhesion. For the cloth a light muslin will do fine.

I prepare my cloth by cutting circles about 1" bigger than the cheese diameter for overlapping. I normally cut about a dozen of these at a time.
I also cut a large piece of cloth that is about 1-2" longer than the circumference of the cheese. From this I cut 2 sections that are about 1" bigger than the height of the cheese.

The fully pressed cheese ready for the cloth coat. circles cut and lard melting.

When ready to bandage melt a small amount of lard. Normally I render my own but for demonstration purposes I just use store-bought here.

Begin with One of the circles first. Dip it into the melted lard and wring as much out as possible. Spread the circle of cloth across the top of the cheese and then smooth from the center out making sure there is overlap to the sides.

Repeat this for the opposite surface and the side.
Make sure the cloth adheres and any air is pressed out.

You now have one fully covered cheese but I have discovered that cheese mites can get through a single layer so always do a second layer to make it all quite bulletproof.

Once it is all covered, place it back into the cloth lined press and press at full weight for 12 hrs.
When you remove from the press, the cloth should have become embedded in the cheese surface. At this point any excess lard should be on the surface and can be scraped off. Very little lard should be on the finished cheese if you do this and what remains goes with the bandage when removed.

You are now ready to age this cheese.


Once the cheese is protected it is ready for your aging space. Notice that the 2 layers of cloth now hide the true color of the Red Lester. It's white again and you will not see that colorful cheese again until you cut into it AND it will then be darker yet as it dries a bit more in the aging.

The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 85-90% moisture. This is moister than my cave so I age under a plastic cake carrier but open every day or so for fresh air which is needed in aging.
The cheese can now be aged for 6-9 months (or longer for stronger character) and it will ready for your table.

You will probably see a healthy mold develop over time but this is not a problem because it only grows on the cloth. If it gets too heavy, reduce the moisture and let it dry a bit, with a final brush to remove some of it. You may see a proper progression of a white low form mold followed by various patches of grey. If you have a well established cave you may even see some yellow and red patches in time..

Its fun to watch this living community of molds develop.

The cheese at 2 weeks and then again at 4+ weeks in the last 2 photos. Note the thick mold surface closing up the cloth in the last photo here.
All of this mold will dry up and be removed with the cloth when ripe revealing a clean cheese rind

A series of photographs taken along the way to show
your friends and customers should pull them into your process.

Isn't that what its all about???

Apr 22-23 Beyond the Basics
May 6-7 French Style Cheese

Jim Wallace has been our technical resource for a number of years now, teaching and answering our technical questions. He is also the person who researches, develops, and writes our recipe pages every month. He is an expert photographer, a great teacher and a wealth of knowledge.

For a more hands on and personalized experience in cheese making, Jim Wallace our Technical Guru offers several workshops at various levels to answer your questions. Each workshop is designed to work through the process of making 3 very different cheeses to explore as many phases of cheese making process as possible in the 2 day sessions. You will gain the knowledge & experience to apply not only to the cheeses made during the session but to many other cheeses in the future. This is because the study approach is the Why and How of the many individual concepts in each process and not just a set of instructions or written recipes.

His years of experience in working with cheese makers both here and in Europe plus his many years at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) program at University of Vermont will prove to be a helpful resource for you to move your cheese making to the next level

The workshops are kept small to provide time for everyones questions.

Imagine spending the weekend with a group of other cheese makers from all over having wonderful lunches together w/ plenty of cheese to taste. At the same time immersing yourself in the cheese process while getting all of your questions answered.

Anyone that has been here will agree that it is possible to have 'Uber' Fun while learning a lot.

More Recipes

by Jim Wallace
February 2017

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