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What is Cheddar Cheese?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cheddar cheese is a semi-hard cows milk cheese that can vary in taste from mild to extra sharp. The cheese is one of the most well known in the world, and many countries produce regional versions, especially Britain and former colonies. Because of the fame of the cheese, it is readily available in most markets, and it varies widely in quality.

The origins of cheddar cheese are ancient. The cheese was first made in Cheddar, a village in southwest England, and historical records indicate that it has been produced since at least the 1100s. Today, cheese from the town has an Appellation of Controlled Origin, along with cheeses from neighboring counties in that region of England. Since “cheddar cheese” has become so generic, protected cheddar is labeled as “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar,” and a small seal indicating that it has earned Appellation certification.

Many consumers associate the color orange with this variety of cheese, due to a long tradition of adding dyes to it to change the color. In fact, it is naturally a creamy to pale white, although orange cheese has become much more common. Cheddar also has a wide range of flavors, depending on how it is made and how long it is aged. Young cheese tends to be more mild, while longer aged cheese has a more sharp, complex flavor. At a minimum, this variety is aged for around three months, but it can be aged as long as 30 months.

As is the case with all cheeses, several things set cheddar apart. The first is the bacteria that the cheese is fermented with, and the second is the manufacturing process. Cheddar cheese undergoes a process called “cheddaring” while it is processed to yield a distinct level of moisture and unique texture. The cheddaring process is quite distinctive, and it dramatically alters the end product.

To make cheddar, milk is mixed with cultures and rennet to form curds, which are gently heated, cubed, and drained. The draining process causes the curds to mat up, and the mat is cut into loose blocks of cheese that are periodically turned, allowing the curds to drain even more. This is the step called cheddaring. The curds may also be stacked to create a more moist cheese at the discretion of the cheesemaker. Next, the cheddared curds are cut, salted, and packed into molds to age.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By turquoise — On Dec 16, 2012

Why is cheddar so good?

I can eat anything with cheddar. Cheddar biscuits, broccoli and cheese soup with cheddar, cheddar macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes with shredded cheddar cheese, or straight up with crackers. It never gets old, ever. I think I'm obsessed with it.

By discographer — On Dec 16, 2012
I'm disappointed to know that cheddar is added food coloring to give it an orange color. I thought that was its natural color.

So yellow cheddar is the real cheddar?

By literally45 — On Dec 15, 2012

@anon301379-- I'm wondering the same thing.

For the past several weeks, I've been making grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast with mild cheddar cheese slices. This cheese becomes really stringy like mozzarella when it's hot.

I have never seen this happen with sharp or extra sharp cheddar though. So it probably has to do with that. Maybe the moisture and fat levels in mild cheddar are different and allow it to become stringy. Does anyone else have another theory?

By anon301379 — On Nov 03, 2012

Why does some cheddar cheese get stringy when it is heated and some doesn't?

By titans62 — On Oct 16, 2012

@jcraig - That is quite interesting. I have always wanted a stronger taste in my cheese and that is why I have continually bought cheddar cheese to be used in my salads, instead of other cheeses.

Just one little morsel of cheddar can really spice up a salad or a dish that requires cheese on it. I find it to be really interesting that not too many people, who like strong flavor in their food, have thought to use this cheese. I have tried it in various dishes and have found it to be delicious.

I am wondering if there are some other dishes out there that require cheddar cheese to be used or if this is a rather uncommon thing associated with cheese supplementing the flavor in cooking?

By jcraig — On Oct 15, 2012
@jmc88 - I have always thought that cheddar is a cheese that is can sit out for awhile and still taste relatively the same.

With mild cheeses, like colby or cojack, once they go warm or even sit out for a little bit, the flavor tends to dissipate and it begins to not taste good. However, with cheddar I never seem to notice a difference in the taste if it has been sitting out a while or not.

By jmc88 — On Oct 14, 2012

@Izzy78 - I agree. I have noticed that at grocery stores that there is never a big selection of sharp cheeses besides cheddar.

I think the reason for this is the fact that in order for cheese to become sharp, it must age, which means the person who made the cheese has to wait in order for their product to become fully finished.

That being said, it makes perfect sense that there is a lot more mild cheese than there is sharp cheese, merely because the makers do not have to wait as long to finish the product and sell it.

As far as why cheddar is the only sharp cheese that seems to be in grocery stores, I think that may have to simply do with the fact that cheddar is not too exotic of a cheese and is probably cheaper to make than other cheeses that are sharp.

By Izzy78 — On Oct 13, 2012
I have to say that I really like cheese, and that cheddar cheese is probably my favorite cheese to eat and I know that a lot of people feel the same way as I do.

I think that the sharpness of the cheddar is what separates it from other cheeses and that because there really are not a lot of other sharp cheeses readily available at places where people commonly shop, this particular cheese has taken over as the main sharp cheese that people buy.

By anon148354 — On Feb 01, 2011

Yeah it's the same with Camembert which is a small village in France; they never controlled their name and now you find lots of cheeses called Camembers from all over the world even though they are not real Camembers.

By Alchemy — On Oct 10, 2010

I would have to say my favorite cheese is Cabot Creamery's private reserve cheddar. The company is based in Vermont and makes the best cheddar cheeses I have ever had. All of their cheddar varieties are white, dye free cheeses. The private reserve is very sharp, and is sold dipped in wax. It is expensive, at about $30 for a three-pound block, but it is well worth the price. There is no better cheese for an artisan sandwich than Cabot Private Reserve.

By bananas — On Apr 26, 2009

Some cheeses have their name protected. Nobody can make a cheese and name it Parmigiano Reggiano, however, the story is different with cheddar. Anybody can make a cheese and call it cheddar.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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