September 13, 2021, by Kathryn Steenson

Say Cheese!

We may be approaching the end of picnic season, but we’re not quite ready to abandon buffet style finger foods just yet. We recently tried out an 18th century recipe for cheese rolls from one of the household recipe books in the archive as part of the 2021 Heritage Open Day theme of Edible England.

Technically this is the second time we’ve tried it, as the cheese rolls were the ‘recipe of the month’ way back in October 2011, in a now-defunct feature of a long-abandoned blog.

The recipe comes from MS 87/1, one of Margaret Willoughby’s 18th century household books. Margaret was the daughter of Francis Bird, sculptor, and Hester Bird of St Giles in the Field, London. In 1736 she married Mr Edward Willoughby of Aspley, Nottinghamshire. Her recipe book contains around 215 recipes with food recipes appearing at the front and medicinal recipes at the back, with the book turned upside down.

Handwritten recipe for Cheese Rolls

The recipe

A quarter of a pound of Chesire Cheese put into a stew pan with two large spoonful of water and an Ounce of butter & two spoonful of flower, set it on the fire & beat it til it melts & leaves the sides of the pan, then let it boil & when has coold, after taking of [off] the fire, put to it one Egg & beat it all well together, then put it in puff paste rowld very thin, make them in the shape of rolls – bake them about ten minutes & serve them hot.

I was unfamiliar with baking in pounds and ounces, but once converted into grams I recognised the quantities as being very similar to those used in a modern cheese sauce, although without the milk as it needed a thicker consistency. I decided it wasn’t cheating to use shop-bought puff pastry and there were no instructions for making it in this recipe. There was also no indication of how many this recipe makes, so I opted to make a dozen larger ‘rolls’ that would probably photograph better, even though they would probably take longer to cook.

Partially cooked cheese rolls on a baking tray

After 10 minutes they’re going golden on the top but uncooked on the bottom!

Uncooked pastry on a baking tray







Making the cheese filling was incredibly easy and it took longer to chop the cheese than it did to melt and beat everything together. I laid the warm-ish filling along the pastry, folded it over and crimped the edges with a fork whilst waiting for the oven to heat up to gas mark 6/200C. Ten minutes seems a very short cooking time, even if the rolls had been smaller, but I was reluctant to use a hotter oven in case they burned. As it turned out they needed much longer than 10 minutes, which was the point I flipped them over because the bottom was still quite raw.

After about 25 minutes I judged them done and began the taste test!

The verdict

They were nice, and tasted exactly as you would expect cheese rolls to taste. The texture was good and the quantity of filling reasonable, although I would have liked a little more per roll, but that was probably my error in misjudging how many this was supposed to make. I’ll probably make them again, but next time add in a few chives or other seasoning to lift the flavour, especially as Cheshire cheese is not particularly strong.

Oh, and they were also pretty tasty cold.

Close up of a cooked cheese roll

Our main Heritage Open Day ‘event’ is the our Health, Wealth and Tastiness, a 30min talk covering 400 years of  culinary history. On that page you’ll also find links to some of the other historic recipes we’ve been trying.

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