Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the United Kingdom, accounting for 51% of cheese sales, and is the second most popular cheese in the United States. It can be paired with a good bottle of wine, or melted between two rustic pieces of bread for a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
Though today it is made worldwide, cheddar cheese originated in England, taking its name from the caves in Cheddar, in the county of Somerset. The constant temperature and humidity of the caves provided a perfect environment for the cheese to mature. The caves also give the cheeses a slightly earthy taste.
The town of Cheddar also developed a unique process for cheese making, where the slabs of curd were turned and piled on top of each other to help dray the whey and stretch the curd. This process is unique to cheddar cheese and creates a hard cheese with a firm body.
There are many varieties of cheddar, sold from supermarkets to gourmet stores. They range from a mild, nondescript flavor, to a very deep, nutty flavor. But true English Farmhouse Cheddar holds the status of Protected Designation of Origination, meeting strict standards of production, including where the milk comes from and where the cheese is made and aged.
Unlike the typical orange shrink-wrapped blocks we think of as cheddar in America, English Farmhouse Cheddar has a robust taste with a salty flavor and a faint sulphuric note. It is aged a minimum of 9 months, creating a strong, mature flavor. The cheese is bound by cloth and becomes harder and drier as it ages.
Cheddar cheese is naturally off white or pale yellow in color, but annatto and other colorings are sometimes added to give it a deep orange color. It was traditionally sold in cloth that had been soaked in lard to prevent contaminants while allowing the cheese to breathe. It was later sold packaged in black wax and can still be found in this packaging as well as shrink wrapped in plastic.
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