What is Cheddar?
Over the years, I have been asked an uncountable number of quesions about Cheddar. Unfortunately, the question is rarely about the country of origin, milk type or even a wine that pairs best. The most asked question is usually presented in a soft voice that suggests I’m-embarrassed-to-ask, but... “Is cheddar cool?” The answer is always the same, YES! Cheddar is super cool, but it is widely misunderstood.
The concept of Cheddar is often based on the yellow/orange, grocery store stuff we were introduced to as kids, but true English Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. The name “Cheddar Cheese” does not have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the European Union, however Cheddar produced from local milk within four counties of South West England may use the PDO name "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.” Basically, this means the cheese was never legally defined, resulting in an unbearable number of undeserving cheeses using the name on their label. This has created confusion for genuine and delicious British Farmhouse Cheddar, and often an un-cool personality in the minds cheese shoppers.
The Real Stuff
This cheese originates from the village named Cheddar, located in Somerset, in South West England and is produced from local raw milk, using the cheese making method of “cheddaring,” which is cutting the curds into blocks and strategically stacking, by-hand, to eliminate whey. After large format wheels are created, the slabs are bandaged in a cloth wrap, and then aged for at least 11 months (often much longer) in high temperatures and humidity. This creates a firm texture, that literally melts in your mouth and typically yields a hint of sharpness, as well as a mild and elegant flavor. Cheddar is often crumbly, and may have a slight crunch on the tongue due to large crystals of calcium lactate formed during the aging process. Personally, I call the crystals cheese diamonds, as they are found in perfectly aged cheeses!
Below are two of my favoite Cheddars, and a few pairing wines. Email me when you try the wines, the cheeses or the pairings, I would love to hear your feedback! firstname.lastname@example.org
Keen’s Cheddar – The Moorhayes family have been producing this award winning Cheddar in Somerset, England since 1899 using raw milk and the same recipe for generations. This cheese is distributed in the US through Neal’s Dairy Yard, I point this out, as this name is often listed on menus! Keen’s Cheddar has a slight sweetness, along with a complex nutty flavor.
Wine Pairing: Sherman & Hookers Shebang Red North Coast, from California’s North Coast. Sherman & Hooker is a project by Morgan Twain-Peterson, the son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson. He also produces wine under the cult-ish Bedrock Cellars label. It is a blend of 80% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Marsanne/ Roussanne/Grenache Blanc. This wine is full of red fruit flavors, that pair incredibly well with Cheddar, and it's a great value!
Quicke's Cheddar – Mrs. Mary Quicke manages a farm of 340 grass-fed cows in Devon, England and produces raw milk wheels of firm, creamy, yet sharp cheddar. Order this cheese online at Murray's Cheese!
Wine Pairing: Chateau Helene Corbieres Penelope Rouge Tradition 2009 is a fresh, aromatic red blend of 40% Syrah 30% Grenache, and 30% Carignan from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. This wine is organically produced and aged in concrete vats, and offers dried fruit and earth on the nose, while the palate is full and ripe with plum, raspberry, spice and smoke. The acidity is a perfect balance to the creamy texture of Quicke’s Cheddar. With our mix-and-match discount, this wine is a steal at $11.89!