Friday, March 8, 2019

Slipcoat Cheese

by M. J. Logue

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
The time has come, the Ironside said, to talk of many things: of Banbury cheese, and slipcote cheese, and sometimes headless kings.

Banbury cheese must wait another day, for my accomplish't delight on this occasion is slipcoat cheese.

You may have heard of slipcoat - or spell it slipcote – cheese in historical fiction, but it's shamefully unlikely that you'll have ever tasted it: modern slipcoat is only commercially available from one dairy, High Weald Dairy in Suffolk, and that's a sheep's cheese. One theory of its name is that it’s allowed to ripen until the cloth it drains on peels away easily from the curds: the other, favoured by the dairy, that slip is dialect for little, and cote refers to a cottage, as in cottage cheese.

Kenelm Digby writing in the 1660s offers several recipes for it. “The Closet Of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight, Opened 'in 1669 gives us:

"Take three quarts of the last of the stroakings of as many Cows as you have; keep it covered, that it may continue warm; put to it a skimming dishful of Spring-water; then put in two spoonfuls of Runnet, so let it stand until it be hard come: when it is hard come, set your fat on the bottome of a hair-sieve, take it up by degrees, but break it not; when you have laid it all in the fat, take a fine cloth, and lay it over the Cheese, and work it in about the sides, with the back of a Knife; then lay a board on it, for half an hour: after half an hour, set on the board an half pound stone, so let it stand two hours; then turn it on that board, and let the cloth be both under and over it, then pour it into the fat again; Then lay a pound and half weight on it; Two hours after turn it again on a dry cloth, and salt it, then set on it two pound weight, and let it stand until the next morning. Then turn it out of the Cheese-fat, on a dry board, and so keep it with turning on dry boards three days. In case it run abroad, you must set it up with wedges; when it begins to stiffen, lay green grass or rushes upon it: when it is stiff enough, let rushes be laid both under and over it. If this Cheese be rightly made, and the weather good to dry it, it will be ready in eight days: but in case it doth not dry well, you must lay it on linnen-cloth, and woollen upon it, to hasten the ripening of it."

We’re not really familiar with the concept of “new” cheese as such, cheese that’s not intended to be stored for any length of time but eaten soft, straightaway. Slipcoat is a simple cheese, the salted curds are pressed under a light weight and then it’s aged until the cloth peels away from the cheese easily. The 1653 cookbook 'A True Gentlewomans Delight' very wisely suggests that, "if you find any mouse turd wipe it off, the Cheese will come to his eating in eight or nine dayes." It’s very much the kind of cheese a farmer’s wife would have made in the spring and early summer when her cows were giving a high yield, for the family’s immediate consumption – what was left over after the more heavily-salted and pressed cheeses to be stored for the lean months. 

Most “new” cheeses were cooking, rather than eating, cheeses – the way we use ricotta today. It’s not a soft texture like Brie or Camembert – despite the name it’s not a spoonable, almost runny, cheese – and nor is it crumbly, like a Cheshire. It’s closer to a sort of feta, but not, as you’ll note from the recipe, salted: moist, friable, and not portable at all. Cheese was, obviously, a way of storing up the surplus of dairy produce for the time when it wasn’t in such abundance, but most was intended for personal consumption: only the surplus was sold on to a wider market, and so there are quantities of recipes in period cookery books for what we’d now consider “fresh” cheeses.

Slipcoat is interesting in that it’s weighted by degrees, just like a hard cheese, but using much lighter weights, which results in a much more open texture. Modern “fresh” cheese recommends 10 lbs of pressure for 20 minutes, followed by 25 lbs for 2-5 hours – but then it isn’t ripened, which slipcoat is, so its taste is much more complex than you’d expect from such a simple recipe.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution – and the increasing need of the armed forces for mass-produced rations suitable for long storage – home dairying started to become less common as the age of the small self-sufficient farm passed, and so many of the unripened new cheese recipes passed from history as not commercially viable. It’s only really now that raw milk is becoming available again, and there’s an increased interest in home cheese-making, that we’re looking again at the recipes of the past for inspiration.

M. J. Logue is a writer, mad cake lady, re-enactor, and historian. Being slightly potty about the clankier side of Ironside for around 20 years, she lists amongst her heroes in this unworthy world Sir Thomas Fairfax, Elizabeth Cromwell and John Webster (for his sense of humour). When not purveying historically-accurate cake to various re-enactment groups across the country, M.J. Logue can usually be discovered practising in her garden with a cavalry backsword.

She can be found on Twitter @Hollie_Babbitt, lurking on the web at, and posting photos of cake, cats and extreme embroidery on Instagram as asweetdisorder

M.J. Logue's latest novel, An Abiding Fire, is available for purchase from Amazon


  1. Interesting read, thanks - forwarded to my cheesemonger daughter :)

  2. Very interesting, indeed! I'd love to see some old recipes using this cheese.


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