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Cambridge Cheese


(Cambridge Cheese, Cambridge Milk Cheese, Cambridge York Cheese, Ely Cheese, Ely Milk Cheese)

A very soft type of Fresh Cheese, said to have been creamy and tangy, the curd made in one hour, dipped into moulds without cutting, to ripen for eating in thirty hours.

Occurs repeatedly in advertisements for grocers and cheesemongers from 1800 up to 1949. There is some evidence that in 1932 the Ministry of Agriculture produced an advice booklet outlining methods of soft and fresh-cheese manufacture recommended to farmers, including Cambridge Cheese, but we've not been able to track it down. There is a modern receipt (1981) in 'Soft cheese craft: and other recipes for the aspiring dairymaid' by Mary Ann Pike.

Our correspondent, Benjamin Archer writes; "Cambridge Milk Cheese was produced until fairly recently, and was unseasoned. Mr. Wesley who runs the Cambridge market cheese stall tells me that the ricotta cheese he sells is almost identical. It was also made with a fresh cream slice in the centre, which produced an orange layer. The dish of 'Mock Crab' consisted of Cambridge cheese broken up with a fork and seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper."

We are obliged to Bob Gale for informing us that Eleanor M Gale wrote; 'Cambridge and Cottenham Cheese' in 1992, which is deposited in Cambridge Central Library.

Original Receipt from 'Benedicamus Domino - Traditional Anglian Recipes with Food and Drink Guide' by Christina Rowland-Jones and published in 1991

Cambridge Cream cheese was an important soft cheese, made in and around Ely during the summer months until the 1970's. It was sold on rush mats.

Cambridge Cream Cheese, 1741
1 pint (20 fl oz) milk
1 1/2 pints (30 fl oz) cream

Boil the cream, put it to the milk, and when blood warm put in a spoonful of rennet; when it is well come, take a large strainer, lay it in a cheese vat, put the curd in gently upon the strainer, then lay it on the cheese board with a pound weight on top.
Let it drain for 3 hours, then put the curd in a cheese cloth, smooth it over and put a weight on the top, turn every 2 hours, and the next morning salt it and put it in a clean cloth.'

Original Receipt from 'Soft cheese craft: and other recipes for the aspiring dairymaid' by Mary Ann Pike (1982). (With thanks to Annie Laws)

Cambridge (York) Cheese
In bygone years, Cambridge cheese (which is also known as York cheese in York and some other places!) was traditionally made in a rectangular mould, about the size of a housebrick, and stood on straw mats to drain. The mats were woven from the finest harvest straw, in the winter months, by the village women. Up until the start of the Second World War (when the Ministry ordered cheese-making economies), the cheeses were made on a commercial basis by at least three Cambridgeshire makers, and the cost of a cheese was one old shilling (5p). Alas, the cheese is not made in any great quantity nowadays, and the traditional moulds and straw mats are very hard to acquire. However, Cambridge cheese is still made by some folk in Cambridgeshire, and, with improvised equipment, anyone can produce it at home. Round or square cake tins, about 6"/15 cm. and with their bases removed, will serve as moulds, and a pad of folded muslin will suffice in lieu of a straw mat. This recipe is still used in Cambridge at the time of writing.

To make 2 cheeses:
8 pints (4.480 lit.) milk 1 tsp. lactic acid 1 tsp. cheese rennet 6 tsp. boiled and cooled water few drops of annatto colouring (optional) salt (optional)
Heat the milk steadily in a large pan to 155F/68C, and then cool it as quickly as possible to 90F/32C. This is best effected by standing the pan in a sink of cold water and stirring until the lower temperature is reached. Add the lactic acid and stir for one minute. Leave aside for 10 minutes for the milk to ripen. Mix the rennet and water together, add to the milk and stir well. If an orange strip is desired (this is characteristic of this cheese but by no means essential it does not affect the flavour in any way) pour about 2 pints (1.120 lit.) of the rennetted milk into a separate container and mix in a few drops of annatto. Leave to set for 30 minutes, or until the curd breaks cleanly. Meanwhile, sterilize the draining utensils, and stand the moulds (2 cake tins about 6715 cm. for this quantity of milk) on straw or plastic draining mats, or folded muslin, on a tray. When set, gently pour off some of the whey from both the white and orange curds. Use a plate on top of the moulds to stop the curds going down the drain too. Next, cut 'tops' for your cheeses by pressing the moulds into the surface of the white curds in the same way that you cut biscuits with a cutter. Carefully remove these with a cooking slice and keep on a plate to top your cheese. Ladle about two thirds of the white curds, draining off as much of the whey as possible without breaking the curds too much, into the available moulds, and then put a layer of the orange curds on top. Finally, fill the moulds with the remaining white curds and position the neatly cut tops. If the moulds are full before all this can be done, simply wait for a few minutes for some of the whey to drain off and for the curds to sink in the moulds. It is a good idea to stand the draining tray on the draining board, by the kitchen sink, for the first hour or so's draining in case the whey overflows as mine usually does. When the initial draining process has calmed down, pour or spoon off as much whey as possible and put the cheeses in a cool place for 2 or 3 days. By then, they should have shrunk considerably. Many authorities firmly state that Cambridge cheese is not salted at all, but this particular recipe says that they should be lightly sprinkled with salt, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and stored for another 12 hours before eating. However, the salt controversy is really a matter of personal taste.

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