Although archaeological evidence suggests that some cheese was made in Iron Age Britain, it was refined and developed by the Romans, who introduced new knowledge and methods via their stronghold in Chester. The powerful monasteries, established by Cistercian monks following the Norman conquest in the eleventh century, also made a considerable contribution to this field; although forbidden to eat cheese themselves, they made and sold it for profit. Jervaulx Abbey, which was founded in Lower Wensleydale in 1156, produced a soft, blue cheese similar to Roquefort which developed over many years into the Wensleydale cheese that is popular today. The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s sent this craft into serious decline, but local farming families continued the practice over the next 300 years, with modern methods developing as demand grew from the establishment of larger towns.
This varied, regional production declined with industrialisation, but until the beginning of the twentieth century, the various regions of Britain produced thousands of farmhouse cheeses in numerous territorial styles; as late as World War Two, there were still more than 500 farms making cheddar alone. But when the government took control of milk supply in the 1930s, making the production of any cheese other than ‘Government Cheddar’ illegal, cheapness, efficiency and uniformity became the sole considerations and the farmhouse industries of Britain were all but lost.