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.