Cheese Carving in Wensleydale – 2

Excerpt from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions. Is British humour your cup of tea? Britain has many well documented, yet strange traditions. This book describes 40 more traditions in a similar vein, all of which are less well known. Get ready for interesting characters, thought-provoking ideas, and strange events – all of which are fiction!

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The contest was further extended in 1900 when outside cheese carving contests were included for the first time, although the Right Grand Prize – the most prestigious award – was only awarded for carving Wensleydale. The outside cheeses added in 1900 were Lancashire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cheshire and Stilton. All of these cheeses, apart from Stilton, are easier to carve and so more people enter these events.

Contestants can bring their own ‘outsider’ cheese with them, but it has to be examined by the Contamination Judge before it can be entered in the contest. This judge will ensure that it hasn’t already been carved, even partially, and that there’s no substance on the surface of the cheese that will make it easier to carve. This latter check is because of Christopher Ollerenshaw, who in 1903 arrived in Wensleydale with a Red Leicester cheese coated in some glue-like substance, which made carving intricate patterns easier. Ollerenshaw would have won a prize if it weren’t for the rule that contestants have to eat all the discarded cheese. Ollerenshaw ate this cheese but was then taken to hospital with severe stomach pains and admitted his attempt at cheating – “one day I spilt wallpaper paste in’t kitchen and it went all over’t food including cheese – after, when ah cut me cheese I culdn’t help but notice that it were harder to cut but none crumbled off, so t’idea were born as it were.” Ollerenshaw was banned for life and none of his relations will ever be allowed to compete either.

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