Cheddar can come in many different strengths, from mild to strong, depending on its period of maturation. The older the cheddar, the sharper it'll taste.
Cheddar-style cheeses are produced in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia (where it is sometimes called Tasty cheese) and Sweden. Much of this cheese is mass-produced and quality varies enormously. The strong flavor develops over time, with a taste diverse enough that food packaging will usually indicate a strength ("mild" to "strong/sharp/mature/vintage"), or the maturation period. Cheddaring refers to an additional step in the production of cheddar-style cheese where, after heating, the curd is cut into cubes to drain the whey, then stacked and turned.
Cheddar cheese has become too widely produced to have a 'protected designated origin' (PDO). However, the European Union recognises 'West Country Farmhouse Cheddar' as a protected designation of origin. To meet this standard the cheese must be made in the traditional manner using local ingredients in four designated counties of south-west England: Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Cornwall. However, the Slow Food Movement, encouraged and advised by Neal's Yard Dairy, has recently created a 'cheddar presidia', affirming the existence of only three cheeses that can truly be called cheddar. Their specifications, which go well beyond the West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO, require that cheddar be made in Somerset, and with traditional methods, such as using raw milk, traditional animal rennet, and a cloth wrapping. A number of large commercial food companies have in recent years established well known brands in the UK for their cheddar cheese (Pilgrim's Choice, Cathedral City, Davidstow etc.). This move is considered by some to be a safeguard against the possibility of cheddar cheese receiving 'protected designated origin' status in the future. Some companies have also considered the possibility of relocating to Cheddar, Somerset if this occurs.
Like many cheeses, the color of cheddar is often modified by the use of food colorings. Annatto, extracted from the tropical achiote tree, is frequently used to give cheddar an orange color. The origins of this practice are clouded, but the three leading theories appear to be to allow the cheese to have a consistent color from batch to batch, to assist the purchaser in identifying the type of cheese when it is unlabelled, or to identify the cheese's region of origin.
Cheddar was traditionally packaged sometimes in black wax, but commonly in larded cloth, impermeable to contaminants but still allowing the cheese to breathe, though this practice is now limited to Europe and to artisan cheesemakers. In the United States, cheddar cheese comes in several varieties, including mild, medium, sharp, New York Style, Colby/Longhorn, white, and Vermont. New York style cheddar cheese is a particularly sharp cheddar cheese, sometimes with a hint of smoke. It is usually slightly softer than milder cheddar cheese. Colby/Longhorn cheddar cheese has a mild to medium flavor. The curds are still distinct, often marbled in color, varying from cream to yellow. Cheddar that has not been colored is frequently labelled as "white cheddar" or "Vermont cheddar", regardless of whether it was produced in the state of Vermont.
Cheddar is one of several products used by the United States Department of Agriculture to track the dairy industry; reports are issued weekly detailing prices and production quantities. The state of Wisconsin produces the most cheddar in the United States; other centers of production include upstate New York, Vermont, and Tillamook, Oregon.
Cheddar is also a good source of vitamin B12 and therefore recommendable for vegetarians. A slice of vegetarian cheddar cheese (40g) contains about 0.5 µg of vitamin B12 (required daily intake for a grown man is 2.4 µg).
Famous farmhouse cheddars from Somerset include Keen's, with a strong tang, and Montgomery's, with an apple after taste.
Record sized cheddar cheeses
White House historians assert that U.S. president Andrew Jackson held an open house party where a 1,400 pound (635 kg) block of cheddar cheese was served as refreshment; this block of cheese would later serve as direct inspiration for two episodes of the Emmy-award winning television series The West Wing.
A cheese of 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg) was produced in Ingersoll, Ontario in 1866 and exhibited in Wikipedia:New York and Britain; it was immortalised in the famous poem "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds" by James McIntyre, a Canadian poet.
In 1893, farmers from the town of Perth, Ontario produced The Mammoth Cheese, at a weight of 22,000 pounds (10,000 kg) for that year's World's Fair in Chicago. When placed on exhibit with the Canadian display, The Mammoth Cheese promptly crashed through the floor and had to be placed on reinforced concrete in the Agricultural Building. It was more written about than any other single exhibit at the fair, and received the bronze medal.
The taste of cheddar varies in maturity. You can buy mild, medium, mature and strong. Strong is the sharpest flavor of cheddar unless you produce cheese, where you can experiment to discover a sharper flavor.
- History of Cheddar Cheese
- WELSH Regional Mature Cheddar
- The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company - the only cheese producer left in the village of Cheddar
- Food and Drug Administration
- Andrew Jackson's 1,400 lb Cheddar
- "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds" - full text of the poem, with notes
- Information on Fresh Cheddar Cheese Curds from Wisconsin
- West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers - a group of cheesemakers producing handmade cheddar under the English Protected Designation of Origin