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What Is Yarg?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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Yarg is a form of cheese produced from cow's milk that can be traced back to origins in the 13th century Cornwall region of southwest England. It is an off-white, semi-hard cheese wrapped in a covering of grayish nettle leaves that has a lemony and herbal flavor due to the infusion of taste from the nettles. As it ages, it can obtain a more mushroom-like flavor, and a white mold purposely grown in it from penicillium candidum bacteria gives it a slight crumbly, creamy texture. The origin of the name for the cheese is from the maker who added the nettle rind in 1983, Alan Gray, with his last name spelled backward.

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The texture of cow's milk cheeses, such as Caerphilly that have a high fat content and crumbly nature, are often compared to Yarg, though it has a more tangy taste and firm texture than Caerphilly types of cheeses and has some similarities to the flavor of cheddar. It is also based on English cheeses that follow the tradition of Wensleydale recipes. It is aged for four to eight weeks, and, for safety reasons, the cow's milk is pasteurized and the nettles are sterilized before use in its production. The greenish-gray nettle rind gives Yarg a vegetable-like flavor, and this increases in strength as the cheese ages. Though this contributes greatly to the distinctive flavor of Yarg cheese, the nettles were originally used not to add flavor, but as a form of preservative to keep the cheese from drying out.

The creators of Cornish cuisine take their cheeses very seriously, and it took the farm that makes Yarg over three years to set up expensive equipment to prepare to manufacture the cheese. The sale of the cheese eventually became so profitable that the farm began to make it full time, and opened up tours of the production process to the public. A herd of over 500 cattle are now raised to produce Yarg, and the nettles used to make its rind are also gathered from local fields.

As of 2004, only one dairy farm in England was producing Yarg cheese, located near Bodmin Moor, a granite moorland in northeastern Cornwall. Though the cheese is only manufactured in limited quantities, it is sold around the world and remains a popular favorite among cheese connoisseurs. Yarg cheese is sold in such places as Japan and Australia. It also has a singular pioneering distinction among cheeses in that it can be said to be one of the few cheeses in the world ever to travel at supersonic speeds. Yarg was carried as a food choice on the original flight of the Concorde passenger aircraft.

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