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
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.