Sam's Religion is like a Cheddar Cheese, 'tis made of the milk of one & twenty parishes.
(Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac)
Cheddar cheese is the most widely purchased and consumed cheese in the world. As we know from history of gastronomy, cheddar takes its name from a gorge and village in Somerset, where the product was first linked as early as the 16th century. Nowadays the UK alone produces 435,000 tonnes of cheese annually, of which cheddar accounts for 302,000 tonnes (70%).
The paradox is that world-known cheddar cheese does not yet fully protected upon PDO certification (Protected Designation of Origin), what means that all three critical elements of cheese making – production, processing and preparation – can be carried out in any geographical area. Many countries make their own cheddar, as local ingredients from United Kingdom are not obligatory. Only West Country Farmhouse Cheddar cheese holds a registered PDO food name, this kind of cheese is made in Somerset, Dorset, Devon or Cornwall exclusively and matured for a minimum of nine months with ingredients come from the region. Unfortunately, PDO does very little to control proper cheddar: for example, West-Country cheese may or may not be pasteurised so far (cheddar makers from Devon refused to join the “pasteurised” group).
One of the most famous non-PDO original names before 1990-s is cognac-alike Armenian traditional brandy Ararat. At Soviet era, production of the latter formed one of the major Armenian agricultural export items to the rest of the World as brandy spirits, while within Soviet territory it was known as cognac. However, the original Cognac must be specified upon Cognac Provence PDO regulations only, including territorial marker, and cannot be produced anywhere else outside Cognac area. Nevertheless, Sir Winston Churchill was so impressed with the Armenian brandy in 1945, that even asked for several boxes of it to be sent to London each year. “Never be late for dinner, smoke Hawaiian cigars and drink Armenian cognac”, mentioned Prime Minister of the UK.
What are the different types of cheddar? There are indeed lots of cheddar cheeses with all diverse sizes, colours, shapes, and ages being made all over the world. One can find cheddar in many forms in dozens of supermarkets, including cheese shredded, sliced, or in blocks. It is not a secret, that in addition to the United Kingdom, cheddar cheese is also made in Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, Finland and the USA. Nowadays the boundaries have become a bit more softened as cheese recipes have become a bit more standardised. But traditional cheddar cheeses with a long history still have characteristics that public have come to expect them to demonstrate.
The original process of making hard block cheddar is distinctive enough that cheesemakers coined a special verb, cheddaring, to coin it. While round shapes of farmhouse cheddar are often cloth-bound and made with raw milk, block cheddar is made on a much larger scale in factories using pasteurised milk. The cheddaring process for artisan cheeses, which involves stacking blocks of curd by hand to speed up a draining, carried out in automatic machines for block cheeses with productivity up to 15 tonnes per 1 hour.
The 18 kg solid cheeses, which are formed into bulky rectangular blocks to make cutting faster, are matured in plastic boxes to prevent weight loss. The texture of cheese is normally moistened, smooth and consistent with aroma including delicious and dairy notes with some spicy taste.
There is also no unified definition for cheddar ageing term. However, the British Cheese Board says: mild cheddar is typically sold at 3 months; medium at 6 months; mature at 9 months; extra mature at 15 months; and vintage at 18 months and more accordingly.
There is no secret that Food&Beverages matching is balanced when brought out from a local cuisine or terroir. Block cheddar is ideal for sandwiches and melting on toast or pasta. As British cheeses often pair well with beers and ciders, bitters are perfect block cheddar accompaniments.
The traditional hard cloth-bound cheddar cheese is produced of cow milk in round truckles, which are bandaged into muslin to protect them during maturing time. During the process, the curds are cut, stirred and scalded to temperature around 38-42 °C to remove moisture. Then the piles of curd are cut into small blocks which are turned and stacked (cheddaring process) to promote drainage as they acidify. Once the acidity level is reached, the curds are milled and salted before moulding and pressing out. The muslin is normally applied using a bit of lard. Natural moulds grow on the cloth during maturation to enrich the ripening of the rind.
The texture and flavour depend hugely on how long cheese is matured. Young cheddars are smooth and tender with sweet, dairy notes, while mature cheeses can develop calcium lactate crystals and a firm, crisp texture with strong savoury notes.
Beer is best, from golden ales and bitters to IPAs and Belgian and German farmhouse beers.
Smoking has been used for years as a way of preserving and flavouring food, although smoked cheddar is a nearly recent development. Both block and cloth-bound versions can be smoked, with producers using different techniques and tricks. Some cheesemakers add smoke flavouring to the curd, others use cold smoke over wood chips, such as maple, or oak for several hours, while a combination of both techniques can also be employed. While the production steps are the same as for other types of cheddar, following the hard cheese process. After curd-cutting and stirring up steps, cheese is often cut into wedges and slices to help the flavour better penetrate during the cold smoking process.
Smoked cheddar normally has a yellow-brown skin, with the level of smoky flavour, depended on time of the process and the type of cheese itself. The top versions have moderate smouldering notes.
Smoked cheese adds a whole new flavour profile to any meal, that is why it is quite risky to match it accurately with wine. Try the floral spice of an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. Traditional British beers, such as bitter and golden ale are a safer choice. In Northern countries there is a tradition to drink smoked cheeses like Danish Rygeost or Västerbotten with a strong coffee. Smoked cheese from South Italy, scamorza аffumicatа, is perfect partner for mature, full-body wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Orvieto.