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Caerphilly cheese is a semi-firm white cheese made from raw cow’s milk, which was developed in the region of Caerphilly, Wales, sometime around 1830.
Originally produced as a way for dairy farmers to efficiently expend their excess milk, Caerphilly cheese developed a following that soon made it profitable to produce on its own. The cheese became a great favorite of Welsh coal miners, who enjoyed chunks of Caerphilly for lunch. The rind of the cheese protected it from the miners’ dirty hands, and its saltiness supposedly replenished whatever was sweated out by the men laboring underground.
Caerphilly cheese is moist and pale, with a mild and salty paste. It is now produced in southwestern England as well as Wales. The English preference is for fresh Caerphilly cheese, eaten after only a few weeks (from two to eight) of aging. At this stage, the paste has a fresh, tangy flavor.
Traditionally aged, from twelve to twenty weeks, Caerphilly cheese has a milder, smoother flavor. The rind, which is natural, is thin, dry to the touch, and pale. Occasionally, the wheels, which are typically about 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter and weigh about 8 pounds (3.6 kg) are waxed. Waxed Caerphilly cheese tends to have a milder flavor than the cheese in its natural rind.
Caerphilly cheese will continue to age once purchased and care should be taken to ensure that flavor and texture are preserved. Artisanal cheese breathes and sweats—don’t smother it with plastic wrap. Instead, use waxed paper to wrap small pieces of cheese. Larger pieces, like a wheel with wedges cut out of it, can be left uncovered except for the cut surfaces, which can be covered with plastic wrap. This way, the cheese will not lose moisture through its cut surfaces but will still be able to breathe.
Caerphilly cheese benefits from a bit of humidity to prevent cracking. If storing a large piece in the refrigerator, keep it in the vegetable crisper or snack drawer. If the drawer has a separate temperature control, set it to be less cool than the rest of the fridge. Place a slightly damp dish towel or paper towels over the surface of the rind to keep it from drying out.
Whole cheeses or partial wheels of Caerphilly should be turned over on a weekly basis. This distributes moisture evenly within the cheese and keeps it from developing cracks. Be sure to bring the cheese up to room temperature (about 55 degrees F [13 degrees C]) before eating.
Caerphilly is delicious served alone on dark bread with sliced tart apples. It is popularly grated into scones, melted into fondue, and it is one of the chief ingredients of the curiously vegetarian Welsh Glamorgan Sausage, which is essentially a panfried formed cheese stick.
So why isn't Caerphilly cheese available in the shops?
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