Suffolk – the uneatable cheese of the Royal Navy

I’d like to introduce you lot to the excellent Foods of England project.

I particularly liked its entry for Suffolk Cheese, a product that is no longer made for reasons that will become obvious. Until the mid-18th Century it was used by the Royal Navy to feed its sailors, but by all accounts it was dry, salty and so hard there were many stories and jokes about the difficulty of eating it.

Naval administrator Samuel Pepys wrote that he was upset when his domestic staff complained about having to eat it. On the 19th December 1825, The Hampshire Chronicle carried a notice that read: ‘As characteristic of Suffolk cheese, it said that a vessel once laden, one half with grindstones and the other half with the above commodity, on arriving at its destination it was found that the rats had consumed all the grindstones, but left the cheeses untouched.’

Historian NAM Rodger reports that the Navy gave up provisioning ships with the stuff in 1758, no doubt to loud cheering from the foc’sl. My crews, of course, are always provided with the finest cheese I can afford…

Other sea related entries are hardtack or ships biscuits (a nuclear bomb test was named after them), grog, bumpo, and  Cheshire cheese (another Naval staple).

My thanks to Sarah Coxson for the tip!

5 thoughts on “Suffolk – the uneatable cheese of the Royal Navy”

  1. Sounds like the ideal accompaniment to the traditional toast.

    “A Willing Foe and Plenty of Sea Room”

  2. The British are not culinary giants, but there is some very good British food. I live in the US where the only UK cheeses in the supermarkets are universally: Stilton and Huntsman. What a shame. But I won’t suggest Suffolk to them.

  3. Many years ago I was visiting the British Kiel Yacht Club. The Army there gave me some tins of ‘Processed Cheese’ to swell my lockers. It was always known as ‘Possessed Cheese’ – and jolly good it was too! HM Armed Forces had obviously come a long way from the horrors of Suffolk.

    1. Same diameter as the tinned oatcakes which made for a tasty and neat snack once you’d got the folding tin opener working.

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