On a recent trip to the Dales with a couple of cheese-mad friends, I went to the Wensleydale Creamery, home of the most famous of Yorkshire cheeses.

I found the whole visit fascinating, learning about the process of cheese-making from a very entertaining chap who made a 500g truckle in front of us during his 20-minute talk.

Afterwards, we were able to sample the dozens of varieties, all of which were delicious, and if that wasn’t enough, we then sat down in the café to order from a cheese-themed menu. For anyone with an aversion to cheese a place like that must be hell on earth.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Wensleydale Creamery, home to Yorkshire’s most famous cheese

The skill of cheese-making goes back thousands of years, and the very first version of what we now know as Wensleydale was produced in around 1150 using ewes' milk, the recipe having been brought over by Cistercian monks from the Roquefort region of France. They established themselves at a place called Fors on the banks of the River Ure, about four miles east of the current creamery at Hawes (which has existed since 1897).

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I couldn’t find it on any map, no doubt because mine are not detailed enough, but after several crop failures, leading to critically low food and animal-feed supplies, the monks were forced to move. A patron offered them better-quality land 16 miles away at East Witton, and it was there that the abbey of Jervaulx was established.

The abbey and its unique dairy product thrived for 400 years until it was destroyed in 1537, victim of Henry VIII’s campaign to wipe out the Catholic faith during the dissolution of the monasteries. But the might of the king was not sufficient to obliterate the Dales’ most precious cheese recipe. The fleeing monks had entrusted it into the care of local farmers whose wives then began to make it.

By then, they were using mainly cows' milk with a drop of ewes' milk to give it its signature taste, and it is them that we need to thank for preserving and perpetuating the ingredients and techniques that were the foundations of the Wensleydale Cheese we currently enjoy.

The first cheese produced by the monks was not the pure creamy white variety so loved by Wallace and Gromit, but a blue-veined Roquefort-style version. It was only once a commercial creamery was established in 1897 that a more refined and standardised version using cows' milk began to be produced thanks to a chap called Edward Chapman who set up "The Old Dairy" in Hawes, sourcing the purest and best cows’ milk from local farms. He began to produce on a large scale, ensuring consistency in size, shape, quality and taste.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Wensleydale Creamery, home to Yorkshire’s most famous cheese

The origins of cheese lie much further back in history, and although it is generally accepted that it was around 7,000BC in the Middle East that this wonderful and versatile foodstuff was first produced, how it was discovered is still unclear. Like many amazing inventions, most versions agree that it was a happy accident.

One suggestion is that it was discovered because milk was stored in containers made from the stomach of animals such as sheep and goats. These stomachs contained the enzyme rennet, which is essential in the production of cheese because it causes milk to separate into Little Miss Muffet’s favourite meal - cottage-cheese like curds, and translucent liquid whey.

Another theory is that milk was stored in terracotta pots, which were only recent inventions themselves, and this combined with the Middle Eastern hot climate led the cheese to coagulate. Other ancient preservatives included salt and acidic fruit juices, both of which could cause milk to curdle in the right conditions. Perhaps all of these theories are right!

The art of cheese-making spread across the Near East and Europe, with murals from 4,000BC Egyptian tombs showing the practice. In Homer’s epic 8th Century BC poem, The Odyssey, the one-eyed giant Polyphemus (otherwise known as Cyclops) made his own cheese by pouring curdled milk into baskets which drained off the whey, much in the way Greek Feta is made now. Feta is very salty, so perhaps that is the explanation of how the Greeks came to discover how to make cheese. The clever Romans developed techniques for making harder varieties of cheese that were longer lasting, easier to transport and therefore easier to trade.

And cheese fans across the globe have never looked back.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.