With an irresistibly fresh taste and a firm, flaky texture, Wensleydale is an iconic symbol of north-central England’s historic Yorkshire county.
A staple cheese in many British households, Wensleydale has both a storied history and a notable presence in popular British Culture, earning nods from everyone from Wallace and Grommet to George Orwell.
Whether it’s your first time tasting Wensleydale Cheese or it’s a regular on your cheese board, there’s plenty to learn about this historic and wholesome piece of Yorkshire.
What Is Wensleydale Cheese?
If you’ve never tried Wensleydale before, you’re not alone. As a non-Brit, I didn’t have my first bite of Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese until I was an adult.
Happily, it’s an easy to enjoy, not-intimidating cheese that’s fresh and mild.
It works well on a cheeseboard, and pairs nicely with fresh fruit, fruit pies and crumbles, bitter beers, crisp whites, and fruity reds.
It’s also a Christmas cheeseboard hit – especially the festive Wensleydale with Cranberries version!
History of Wensleydale Cheese
Wensleydale Cheese has a long and storied history in England.
Early versions of the cheese date back to the 12th Century. French Cistercian monks in the area – believed to be trying to recreate Roquefort – started making a sheep’s milk cheese.
In 1540, the monasteries were dissolved, and the recipe for this cheese was passed to local farmers and their wives.
Over time it’s evolved from a sheep’s milk cheese into the crumbly cow’s cheese it is today.
Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Flavor and Texture
Wensleydale Cheese is firm, moist and flaky, with a rich ivory color and an open texture.
It has a fine curd that you can easily crumble in your fingers. And while it holds together when slicing, you’ll get some crumbs.
When storing a block of cut Wensleydale to go back in the fridge, brush the crumbs away and wrap it in clean cheese paper or wax paper for best results.
Aroma wise, it has a slightly citric scent and notes of fresh grass.
Putting it in your mouth, it’s got a wholesome milky sweetness to it, while also being a bit tart. Wensleydale is fresh and buttermilky, with a bit of a honey aftertaste.
Wondering about some common words used to describe the taste, aroma, and texture of Wensleydale? Here’s my take on it: moist, firm, flaky, crumbly, supple, open, creamy, sweet, mild, tart, nutty, buttermilky, fresh, honey, grassy, natural, wholesome, clean
Where Is Wensleydale Cheese From?
Yorkshire Wensleydale is a protected designation (PGI), and must be made in the Wensleydale region of northern England. The area is within the Yorkshire Dales, and is environmentally protected, meaning use of chemicals and fertilizers are restricted. This means the cows that produce milk for Yorkshire Wensleydale munch on wild grass and herbs, contributing to the cheese’s natural and wholesome flavor.
Wensleydale Creamery is the only creamery in the world making traditional Yorkshire Wensleydale, and they use milk from 44 farms within a 25 mile radius of their Hawes, England creamery!
That said, there are plenty of other creameries across England that make a non-protected version of the cheese, known simply as Wensleydale (without the Yorkshire).
These days, Wensleydale is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, which is a departure from its historic form, which used sheep’s milk.
Wensleydale is made by scalding the curds and draining the whey.
Curds are piled into cubes in the vat, turned, cut even finer, and then stirred. They’re salted by hand and cut again before putting the curds in moulds. The cheese is then pressed for up to two days.
It’s typically wrapped in cloth, and can be matured for anywhere from 1 week to 12 months.
Typically Wensleydale is enjoyed as a young cheese, matured for around one or two months. However, Wensleydale creamery also makes mature and extra mature versions of their Yorkshire Wensleydale (as well as Blue and Oak Smoked versions).
Common Flavors and Variations
Natural Wensleydale is delicious, and a great choice for any cheeseboard. However, Wensleydale also works well as a flavored cheese, especially for dessert.
Cranberry Wensleydale and Apricot Wensleydale Cheese
Wensleydale is one of the most popular and common cranberry cheeses. Besides natural, Cranberry Wensleydale is probably the most popular variation of this cheese. Apricot is another popular variation.
Wensleydale Creamery offers festival flavors during the holidays, flavored with creative combos such as cherries and brandy or gingerbread.
How to Pair Wensleydale Cheese
Wensleydale and Beer Pairings
IPAs are a great choice for Wensleydale, as the bitterness of the beer cuts through the creaminess and slight sweetness of the cheese. Same goes for fruit-infused beers, like and Radler.
If you’re serving cranberry Wensleydale, porters and dark winter beers work well.
Wensleydale and Wine Pairings
As with most cheeses, white wines match best with Wensleydale. Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc are good choices.
As Wensleydale is quite mild, however, most reds will do the job if you prefer. I recommend something on the fruitier, lower tannin side of things, such as a Pinot Noir, Beaujolais/Gamay Noir, Pinotage, Grenache, or Zinfandel.
How to Enjoy Wensleydale Cheese
- Apple Pie
- Fruit Cake
- Cheese board (Wensleydale with Autumn fruits is a nice theme)
- Hot Fruit Pies or Crumbles
- Crumbled on a Salad
- Melted on a Cheese Toastie
- Stuffed in a chicken breast
- Leftover turkey sandwich
- Wensleydale soup recipe
- Wensleydale sauce