It's all Chalk and Cheese

on Tuesday, 27 June 2017. Posted in Archives, Traditions and Folklore

North Wiltshire’s edible tradition

Wiltshire is well known for its southern chalk and northern rich pasture dairy land, and cheese production was once a well established part of Wiltshire life, from cottage industry to factory production. Chippenham’s cheese market opened in 1850, reported in the London Illustrated News and the market soon became famous. Wiltshire Cheese was renowned from the 18th century and became highly sought after. The Wiltshire Loaf is a semi-hard cheese, smooth and creamy on the outside and crumbly in the centre. The North Wiltshire (or Wiltshire) Loaf reached the peak of its popularity in the 18th & early 19th centuries.

Illustration in the Illustrated London News, ref: P5215.

William Nichols was a Chippenham Chemist who developed the use of the substance annatto as a food additive. Annatto comes from the achiote shrub seed and is produced in South America. You can still see it as the orange skin on some cheeses today, and it is used to give colour to dairy products.

Article in the London Gazette, 1877, regarding the Annatto business William Nichols & Co., running from Rowden Hill, Chippenham
The will of George Gibbs of Lowden, Chippenham, ‘annatto maker’, 1879. (P31/1/22/86)

Dairy production operated on a large scale at the Anglo Swiss Dairy, Chippenham, in the late 19th century with daily milk deliveries. The workers began their day at 6am, finishing at 7pm; the work was extremely hard. The factory closed in 1962.

The production of Wiltshire cheese went into decline after the Second World War. In recent years Wiltshire cheese has once again been making a name for itself with some of the county’s farmers producing award winning cheese such as Brinkworth Dairy’s ‘Wiltshire Loaf’ which won Best Territorial Cheese at the 2013 British Cheese Awards.

The Wiltshire Loaf, reproduced by kind permission of Brinkworth Dairies.

Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian

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