Why Caerphilly’s a big cheese this summer

Sliced Caerphilly cheese.

Caerphilly cheese by @cheesemaker_rob
Whether you’re Welsh or not, you’ll no doubt have heard of Wales’ Caerphilly cheese – a world renowned, home grown delight that’s so well regarded it’s just been awarded European Protected Food Status.

This means that Caerphilly Cheese has joined an exclusive list of just 84 UK delicacies, including Welsh favourites Anglesey sea salt and Welsh lamb, as well as much-loved dishes from further afield including Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cornish pasties and Jersey Royal potatoes. 

The only cheese native to Wales, Caerphilly cheese is versatile, unique, and downright tasty.

Most resembling cheddar in terms of its consistency and taste, ‘Caerphilly’ is a hard, crumbly, white cheese originating from, you guessed it, the town of Caerphilly in South Wales (famous for many other things including its 13th century medieval castle located right in the middle of town). First produced back in 1830, it’s said that Caerphilly cheese was originally developed as a hearty snack for coal-miners, thanks to Caerphilly’s close proximity to a number of South Wales’ mining towns. Caerphilly cheese was the perfect solution for hungry miners. Its shallow height and tough coat made it easy to eat with bare hands down the mines and prevented it from going dry, while its salty, moist curd helped to replenish the minerals lost by the miners during the time they spent working underground. With the turn of the 20th century, competition for milk in the local region sadly led to a decline in the production of Caerphilly in the region. However, one Welsh creamery, Dragon Wales, is still making the iconic Welsh staple today. 

Methods of making Caerphilly have also changed over the years but, traditionally speaking, the cheese was handmade and left to mature for longer compared to industrial approaches, creating a moist, creamy result with more character and a stronger taste.  Its more mature variant, which is often kept for up to a year, forms a thicker, harder coat with a deep mushroomy, buttery taste, contrasting against a sharper, citrusy interior.

Originally designed to be eaten straight up, these days you’ll usually find it grated and melted on a range of dishes including the classic Welsh rarebit, omelettes and quiches. It’s also perfect sprinkled over a salad, as a substitute for feta, or added to Glamorgan sausages - the traditional Welsh vegetarian sausage.

Cheese stall at The Big Cheese Festival food hall.

Cheese stall at The Big Cheese Festival food hall, Caerphilly by Caerphilly Council
While Caerphilly cheese may no longer be produced in Caerphilly itself, it’s still very much part of the fabric of the town. In fact, Caerphilly loves its cheese so much that it even has its own annual festival dedicated to it. The Big Cheese, which takes place every summer, has a whole range of cheesy delights for you to sample and buy, including its prized Caerphilly, as well as offerings from acclaimed Welsh producers including Snowdonia Cheese (you must try their award winning Black Bomber) and the Blaenafon Cheddar Company to name a couple. Essentially if you like your cheese, it’s a must-visit.

And always remember, what cheese do you need to be very cautious with? Caer-philly (sorry, we couldn’t resist…)

Big Cheese Festival 2018, 27 – 29 July, entry is free.