What is Derby Cheese?

Mary McMahon

Derby cheese is a traditional cheese originally made in Derbyshire, England. The cheese has been made since at least the 16th century, and there are several major variations on the cheese including a version which includes herbs. The cow's milk cheese has a mild flavor and a semi-firm texture which make it suitable for a wide range of foods, including sandwiches and cheese plates. Some grocers stock Derby cheese, and it is also available through specialty importers who focus on foods from England.

Derby cheese is similar in texture to cheddar cheese.
Derby cheese is similar in texture to cheddar cheese.

By tradition, regular Derby cheese is available year round. The color of the cheese is naturally a creamy ivory to a rich yellow, and the mild flavor makes it suitable as an all around table cheese. The cheese is sometimes compared to mild cheddar, and has a similar texture but lacks the unique cheddar flavor. It does tend to have a buttery, creamy flavor, and it melts reasonably well.

Milk, which is used to make Derby cheese.
Milk, which is used to make Derby cheese.

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In the 17th century, cheesemakers started to add sage to the cheese. The sage was added as a health tonic, rather than a flavoring, as sage was believed to be highly beneficial to general health. A special “sage derby” with green marbling began to be popular, especially around Christmas, and other herbed variants of the cheese emerged as well. The unique look and flavor of sage Derby can make it a great topic of conversation and interest at the table, and the cheese pairs well with fresh fruit and many wines as well.

When herbs are added to Derby cheese, they are cut in with the cheese curds. Therefore, they are pressed with the cheese and they age with it. As a result, the flavor of the herbs is able to develop and suffuse the cheese, rather than being an afterthought as is the case in some blended herbed cheeses. To achieve the traditional marbled look, producers usually blend herbs with part of the curd, and then mix plain and herbed curds together. Sage Derby can indeed look bizarre, thanks to the marbling, but consumers should not let the strange appearance put them off.

Sometimes, solid green Derby cheese is produced, often with the assistance of vegetable dyes such as spinach. This Derby cheese may or may not include sage, depending on the producer, but it does tend to have a strong vegetable flavor, thanks to the plant-based dye used to color it. Solidly dyed cheeses are usually reserved for the holiday season, when they add to general festivities.

Derby cheese can be turned green through the use of spinach.
Derby cheese can be turned green through the use of spinach.

Discussion Comments


@jcraig - I have felt that when eating Derby cheese the best wine to drink with it is fruit wine, such as Elderberry wine. This compliments the marbled texture of the Derby cheese and allows for the flavor of the cheese to be much more enjoyable.

However, if fruit wine is not available I would have to say that a good Chardonnay would be as reasonable a substitute as there is available. Red wine is an absolute no with this cheese and will only hurt the flavor of the cheese and make it seem almost revolting.


I have had Derby cheese before and felt that it tasted very good. The only problem I have with Derby cheese is that I have not yet found something that can be used to eat with it. Can the Derby cheese be sprinkled on certain dishes and what is a good dish that could include Derby cheese as a topping? Also, does Derby cheese go better with red wine or white wine. Although people do not think that there is a major difference in what wine is used with what cheese there is and I would like to know before trying this cheese again when I have a glass of wine.

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