Named after the English city of Leicester, this firm, vibrant cow's milk cheese is undeniably an eye-catcher. But it's not all show: Red Leicester is a cheese you'll crave even as the last crumb disappears. Its bright-orange colour, originally added to distinguish it at the market, comes from the addition of annatto, a natural dye that is also used for cheddar. Though cheddar-like in quality with full, milky notes on the palate, it surprises with savoury-sweet flavours that hint of earth, caramel, toffee and nuts. Dense but moist, Red Leicester is slightly flaky when sliced. I love to shave thin slices onto salads or sandwiches. It packs so much flavour that a little goes a long way.
Red Leicester was created to utilize milk left over from Stilton production and became very popular in the 18th century. Make sure to look for farmstead wheels (such as Thomas Hoe Stevenson), which are still wrapped in cloth. Industrial versions, usually made in blocks, can lack the same rich flavour, though Pembrokeshire Cheese Co. in Wales (a large creamery) produces an award-winning Red Leicester using milk from local co-ops and with the character of artisanal cheese. It's younger, softer in texture and has a more mellow flavour. Other than snacking on it constantly, you can melt Red Leicester, put it on your cheese board, or just serve it with warm bread, fresh fruit and a cold beer.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.