Caerphilly is an aged cow's milk cheese. While industrially produced versions are typically bland and crumbly, traditional varieties have a natural rind, moist texture, and bright, citrusy flavor. Caerphilly is named for the Welsh town near which it was first produced in the early 19th century, although much of the cheese sold under the name today is produced in England.
Milk Source: Cow
What Is Caerphilly?
Originally produced on farmsteads outside Cardiff in Wales to use up excess milk, Caerphilly (spelled Caerffili in Welsh) earned a reputation as the favorite cheese of the local coal miners. The miners traditionally brought the cheese down into the mines with them while they worked, wrapping the cheese in a cabbage leaf to protect it.
It's said that the miners preferred Caerphilly because of its thick, durable rind; its salt content, which replaced much-needed electrolytes the miners lost while sweating in the mines; and its higher moisture content, which kept it from drying out. The miners also erroneously believed that the cheese absorbed toxins in the air underground.
Unlike industrial varieties, traditional Caerphilly has a supple texture more reminiscent of a Brie-style cheese, than aged cheese. Beneath the earthy gray rind of each wheel is a layer of this creamy, softer-textured paste, with a lighter-colored, chalkier section of the paste in the center. The flavors range from lemony to mushroomy to barnyard—much more complex and flavorful than the mass-produced versions.
As cheesemaking began to industrialize and consolidate into factory production in the U.K. in the early 20th century, many farmstead producers of Caerphilly were lost. At the start of World War II, the British government mandated that only hard cheeses could be produced in an effort to use the nation's dairy reserves strategically. Unfortunately, this meant Caerphilly was produced less and less.
A lone holdout by the 1950s was Duckett's Caerphilly, which is still produced today on Westcombe Farm. Another well-respected producer, Gorwydd Caerphilly, also makes their traditional version based on Duckett's method.
How Caerphilly Is Made
Whole milk (raw or pasteurized) is heated gently, then starter cultures are added to kickstart fermentation and lower the pH of the milk by converting lactose to lactic acid. The rennet is added, and the milk is allowed to coagulate into a solid, yet bouncy, curd.
The curds are cut into very small cubes, then gently heated and stirred to expel whey and firm up the curds. The whey is drained off, and then the curds are cut into slabs, stacked, and turned a few times to help push out more whey. At this point, the curds are broken into small pieces and combined with salt before being hooped into plastic cheese forms lined with cheesecloth.
The cheese is then pressed to firm up the wheels and remove more moisture, either with weights or with a press. The cheesecloth and form are removed, the rind is salted, and the wheels are allowed to air dry so that the rind can begin to form. The roughly 10-pound wheels are aged for up to 10 weeks before being packaged and sold.
If you're unable to find Caerphilly, a young, creamy English cheddar can serve as a substitute in recipes.
The main types of Caerphilly are traditionally produced varieties; such as Duckett's and Gorwydd, which have the cheese's signature softer texture and complex multi-dimensional flavor. Some, such as Duckett's Aged Caerphilly, are aged for up to one year.
However, industrially produced Caerphilly is much more akin to commodity cheddar with a relatively bland flavor profile, uniform white coloring, and hard, crumbly texture.
Caerphilly can be enjoyed on a cheese board with accompaniments like fresh fruit, toasted nuts, and honey. It's best to bring the cheese to room temperature before eating it as a table cheese.
In terms of wine, it pairs well with crisp white wines and light-bodied reds; and also goes well with dry hard cider. In recipes, Caerphilly is typically grated and melted into dishes.
Store Caerphilly in its original packaging in the coldest part of your refrigerator. After opening, rewrap leftover cheese in a fresh piece of cheese paper or in a piece of parchment paper with an unsealed plastic baggie enclosing the wrapped cheese. Caerphilly can be stored well-wrapped in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.
If mold grows on the cut surface of the cheese, use a sharp paring knife to cut away the moldy portion. Take care not to drag the knife through the mold, which may spread it to other parts of the cheese.
Can You Eat the Rind?
Caerphilly is known for its gray and white natural rind, which adds earthy, mineral flavors to the cheese. The rind is edible.