The humble cheddar cheese had a huge role to play during World War Two rationing, both at home here in Britain and across the pond in America.
But it wasn’t like the cheddar cheese we know and love today.
During the Second World War milk, previously used to make a variety of different cheeses, was redirected to factories to make a product that would become known as 'Government Cheddar'. This was part of a wider civilian rationing scheme to help Britain feed itself at a time of extreme food shortage.
A propaganda film, promoting eating Government Cheddar instead of meat, was shown in cinemas before many films were screened. The Ministry of Information created short films during WW2 to keep people informed as many got their news from the cinema.
Some of these short films are now considered to be propaganda which is information portrayed with a bias to promote a cause or a point of view. Therefore it was used regularly to help the British war effort.
The Ministry of Food also printed leaflets giving reasons as to why people should eat cheese instead of meat. Some of the reasons included;
- Cheese is an excellent body-builder
- It provides a guard against infections
- It will help you to see in the dark
- It is a concentrated energy giving food
Video credit: Imperial War Museum's extensive film archive represents more than 100 years of filmmaking. Find out more and view some highlights in IWM’s digital series ‘Film Favourites’ on YouTube
Government Cheddar was used by the Ministry of Food as an alternative to meat in the height of rationing during the Second World War. As the Ministry of Food pointed out in their propaganda video:
"Beef is not the only valuable food which the cow gives us."
The video goes on to share examples of how households could cook with cheese, including making cauliflower cheese, grilled cheese and mixing it with rice and tomatoes for a cheese kedgeree.
It makes reference to "leading experts" saying that a piece of cheese weighing five ounces gives as much nourishment as a piece of meat weighing 10 ounces. The narrator said:
"In the meat ration, cheese is going to prove a blessing to the housewife."
The aim of rationing was to ensure that everyone received a fair distribution of food, and other items when they were hard to come by during the war.
A decree was passed which banned the production of any cheese that wasn't 'Government' cheese which lasted until the end of rationing in 1954.
Before the First World War, there were roughly 3,500 independent cheese makers in the United Kingdom, and by 1945 there were fewer than 100.