Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ Henry V, William Shakespeare
It doesn’t get much more patriotic than a Shakespeare quote about our national patron saint – and, in a further twist, Shakespeare’s birthday is also on Saint George’s Day, April 23rd. In truth though, these days most English people would be hard pushed to tell you anything about Saint George other than he took on a dragon. However, in other countries such as Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia and Latvia, St George’s Day is traditionally tied in with the start of the cheese-making season and is a time to bless their livestock. All of which seamlessly leads me into Pong Cheese’s English Selection Box, which would seem to present the ideal way to honour St George, Shakespeare and farm animals all in one.
The English love cheese: they eat it, they make Beyoncé sculptures out of it and they chase it down hills for fun. Cheese permeates our culture, whether it’s Samuel Pepys burying his Parmesan during the Great Fire of London or Miss Muffett’s curds and whey being sabotaged by spiders.
England has a long history of cheese-making. Archaeological evidence from animal bones and residues found on pottery fragments suggests that Neolithic man was keeping animals for their milk, and processing it into butter and cheese. The Romans, known as master cheese-makers, are thought to have bestowed their skills on the natives, in particular teaching them how to make harder, long-keeping cheeses. For centuries, cheese provided a portable and storable source of valuable protein – ‘white meat’ that could sustain families through the long, lean winter months.
The birth of many iconic English cheeses are so buried in history that we only have myth and legend to explain how they came about. Was Cheddar really invented when a milkmaid left a bucket of milk in a cave and returned to discover it had turned into delicious cheese? Did the Romans develop the first Cheshire cheeses, rock-hard as Parmesan, that they exported back to Rome? Were the French monks of Jervaulx Abbey the first people to exploit the abundance of sheep in Yorkshire to make the original Wensleydale?
We’ll never know for sure but I’ll be writing some more about English cheeses over the next couple of weeks, leading up to St George’s Day. The choice of products in this Pong Box represents a great selection for a varied cheeseboard – something old, something new, something goat and something blue:
Mongomery Cheddar – an artisan, mature, farmhouse Cheddar produced in Somerset
Stinking Bishop – an award-winning – and infamous – washed rind cheese from Gloucestershire
Cerney Ash Goat’s Cheese – a fresh, ash-covered goat’s cheese made in the Cotswolds
Cropwell Bishop Stilton – a cow’s milk blue cheese, made according to tradition in Nottinghamshire
The English Selection Box is priced at £45.00 (although Pong are usually pretty generous with their 10% off codes if you look on the web or sign up to emails).
Disclosure: I was sent an English Selection Box by Pong Cheese for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.