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Red Leicester, also historically referred to as Leicestershire, is a variety of cow’s milk cheese that is produced primarily in Great Britain. The cheese is thought to have originated in the British region of Leicestershire as a result of the desire of local dairy farmers to produce a cheese with a taste and appearance distinctive of the region. Its name comes from the red color of the hard outer rind of the cheese. This red hue is the result of adding annatto, a food coloring derived from the seeds of the annatto tree, during the production process.
To make Red Leicester cheese, dairy farmers combine cow’s milk with rennet, an enzyme that aids the milk in coagulating to form a more solid-like mixture. The mixture is then allowed to sit until it separates into firmer pieces known as curds, and liquid called whey. The curds may then be colored with annatto to give the cheese a red color, before being pressed together and then molded into a wheel or block shape. The cheese is generally recommended to be aged for at least six months prior to consuming in order to have the optimal texture and taste.
The texture of Red Leicester cheese is typically somewhat hard, particularly if it is made in its traditional form as a wheel shape. The harder version of the cheese tends to be drier and flakier. If the cheese is produced into a block shape instead, it is more likely to have a softer texture that is more suitable for cutting into smooth, intact slices.
Red Leicester is generally considered to have a mild flavor with a slightly sweet undertone. If the cheese is purchased as a wheel and has a flakier texture, it is often eaten by itself as a finger food or paired with crackers, bread, or fruit. It may also be shaved and added to salads or grated and used as a garnish for cooked dishes just prior to serving. The softer, block-shaped version of the cheese tends to melt better than the flakier wheel version and may be added to any dishes in which a melting cheese is desired.
Since Red Leicester cheese is traditionally produced mainly in Great Britain, it may not be readily available in other areas of the world or if available, may not necessarily be affordable depending on how far in which it was exported. White Leicester, a similar version of the cheese without the coloring and is often lower priced; however, it may not be considered to have as complex of a flavor as the original version. The cheese may also be substituted with cheddar for a similar taste, texture, and melting ability.