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Five counties is a cheese that is made by layering five different traditional English cheeses one atop another. Since English cheeses come in a range of colours from white through yellow to deep orange, this creates a pretty layered effect visually. The range of flavours and textures ensures an equally pleasing eating experience; the pretentious and overeducated could claim that the pentachotomy of cheeses creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The problem with five counties is that there are more than five traditional, distinct English cheese styles that are named after counties. To make matters worse, some of the more popular cheeses are named after smaller regions — Wensleydale (of Wallace and Gromit fame), for example, is a valley in North Yorkshire, and Cheddar is in Somerset.

Unsurprisingly, makers of five counties tend to disagree upon precisely which five counties (or non-counties) should be used. Popular choices include:

Nor is the ordering of the layers agreed upon, beyond certain basics. Two similarly coloured cheeses will never be adjacent, colour symmetry is generally appreciated and white rarely makes the outside layer. Popular choices are yellow - orange - white - orange - yellow (which maximises contrast) and orange - yellow - white - orange - yellow.

There are no particularly strong cheeses on the list — a very tasty Lancashire or an over matured Cheddar would mask the more subtle flavours of lighter cheeses. For those who prefer their cheese like year old sweaty socks, Huntsman cheese is another British style that consists of Stilton inside Double Gloucester.

Despite the disagreement on other issues, the five part is nearly universal. A larger number would make the individual layers too small to be identifiable, and fewer cheeses would be less visually appealing and would start to encroach upon the Huntsman style.

Five counties style cheese is also sold under various brand names, including Stripey Jack, Five Shires and (inaccurately) Five Cheddars. It is reasonably popular and not especially difficult to find — most supermarkets have their own varieties.

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