Cheshire Cheese is believed to be Britain’s oldest named cheese and is thought to have been first produced in the garrison town of Chester by the Romans. Whoever first made it, Cheshire Cheese was mentioned in the Domesday Book at the end of 11th Century. It was traded across the country and different varieties of Cheshire Cheese were aged to a sufficient level of hardness so that they could be transported to London. They were carried firstly by horse and cart, and later by canal boat. From 1739, Cheshire Cheese was the only cheese bought for consumption by the British Navy.
During the 19th century, sales of Cheshire Cheese grew strongly as it became a firm favourite in the industrial towns and cities of the midlands and north of England. Indeed it was sometimes known as the poor man’s meat.
After the construction of the canal, Whitchurch became a collection point for farms sending cheeses to market by boat. Canal boats collected cheese from farms on all parts of the Welsh canal but mainly from Shropshire. The bottom floor of the Shropshire Union Canal Warehouse was used for storing and checking the cheese. Once it had been examined, it would be sent on to Ellesmere Port docks and then onto Liverpool for export. The boats would leave Whitchurch on Wednesdays and arrive at Ellesmere Port on Fridays.
The cheese fair in Whitchurch started in 1899, and ran for many years in the old Market Hall. Today there is still a tradition of cheese-making in the area, including the award winning Belton cheese. If you are here the first Saturday in the month, try some local cheese at the Farmers’ Market