Cheddar is the second most popular cheese in the world, just behind Mozzarella. The cheese is so popular in the United States, that in many parts of the world it is just known as “American Cheese.” Cheddar can be white or yellow, extra-sharp, sharp, medium or mild – and the reasons may surprise you. Cheddar is actually white or slightly yellow, so annatto or other coloring agents are added to make cheddar yellow. Generally speaking, the sharper or tangier a cheese is, the longer it has been aged. Mild cheddars are aged just a few months, while some of the sharpest cheddars that are readily available are aged for 10 years.
History and Origin
The first recorded cheese from the town of Cheddar, England, is from the 1100’s. Cheese was historically named for its origins (e.g. “Gouda”) rather than for its method of production – so what we know as cheddar wasn’t a uniform, established type of cheese until the last 150 years.
How the Cheese is Made
There is actually a process called “cheddaring” which describes a technique through which extra whey (the liquid formed during the cheese-making process) is removed from the curd. This involves cutting the curds into loaves, then stacking the loaves to expedite the expulsion of whey. This benefits the durability of the cheese by making it dryer and less prone to spoilage. However, most cheese-makers have moved to other methods for removing the moisture, such as scalding – heating the curds rapidly to expel the moisture; milling and curd-salting which stops the fermentation step; or aging the cheddar in plastic or wax, which creates a wonderfully protective seal.
Bandage-wrapped or clothbound cheddar is a traditional style still available today, whereby wheels of the cheese are wrapped in cloth, sealed in lard or butter, and then aged. Clothbound cheddars are milder than waxed or sealed-plastic cheddars, but can be complex with earthy, grassy, or even fruity notes.
A newer style of cheddar cheese-making involves the introduction of bacterial cultures that are traditionally used in other cheeses into the traditional styles used for cheddar, and this has allowed the creation of more tyrosine (aka “happy crystals”) which are increasingly popular.
Cheddar is incredibly versatile, and its use is dictated by the age of the cheese.
1. Mild cheddars are creamy and great for melting (grilled cheese, anyone?) Check out this recipe for Seven Layer Dip!
2. Medium cheddars are often used for melting and slicing and are a good choice for someone who likes the flavor of cheddar; try sliced medium or sharp cheddar on an apple wedge for a great treat.
3. Sharp cheddars are aged for as much as a year, and while they can melt with extra heat, sharp cheddars are typically grated or sliced. Try this recipe for Cauliflower Mac and Cheese or Bacon Cheddar Cheese Balls!
4. Finally, extra-sharp cheddars are for those who love a bold, strong flavor. Extra-sharp cheddars tend to be crumbly and can be used on a cheese board as a foil to milder cheese varieties.