Cheddar cheese is a relatively hard, pale-yellow-to-off-white (or yellow-orange if spices such as annatto are added), sometimes “sharp” (i.e., acidic)-tasting, natural cheese. Originating in the English village of Cheddar in Somerset,cheeses of this style are produced beyond this region and in several countries around the world.
The cheese originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, South West England. Cheddar Gorge on the edge of the village contains a number of caves, which provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese.Cheddar cheese traditionally had to be made within 30 miles (48 km) of Wells Cathedral.
Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. A pipe roll of King Henry II from 1170 records the purchase of 10,240 lb (4,640 kg) at a farthing per pound (totaling £10.13s.4d, about £10.67 in decimal currency).Charles I (1600–1649) also bought cheese from the village Romans may have brought the recipe to Britain from the Cantal region of France.
Central to the modernisation and standardisation of Cheddar cheese was the 19th century Somerset dairyman Joseph Harding.For his technical innovations, promotion of dairy hygiene, and volunteer dissemination of modern cheese-making techniques, he has been dubbed “the father of Cheddar cheese”. Harding introduced new equipment to the process of cheese-making, including his “revolving breaker” for curd cutting, saving much manual effort.The “Joseph Harding method” was the first modern system for Cheddar production based upon scientific principles. Harding stated that Cheddar cheese is “not made in the field, nor in the byre, nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy”.He and his wife were behind the introduction of the cheese into Scotland and North America. His sons, Henry and William Harding, were responsible for introducing Cheddar cheese production to Australia and facilitating the establishment of the cheese industry in New Zealand respectively.
During the Second World War, and for nearly a decade after, most milk in Britain was used for the making of one single kind of cheese nicknamed “government Cheddar” as part of war economies and rationing. This almost resulted in wiping out all other cheese production in the country. Before the First World War there were more than 3,500 cheese producers in Britain; fewer than 100 remained after the Second World War.
According to a United States Department of Agriculture researcher, Cheddar cheese is the world’s most popular variety of cheese, and the most studied type of cheese in scientific publications.
The curds and whey are separated using rennet, an enzyme complex normally produced from the stomachs of newborn calves (in vegetarian or kosher cheeses, bacterial, yeast or mould-derived chymosin is used).
Cheddaring refers to an additional step in the production of Cheddar cheese where, after heating, the curd is kneaded with salt, cut into cubes to drain the whey and then stacked and turned.Strong, extra-mature Cheddar, sometimes called vintage, needs to be matured for up to 15 months. The cheese is kept at a constant temperature often requiring special facilities. As with other hard cheese varieties produced worldwide, caves provide an ideal environment for maturing cheese; still, today, some Cheddar cheese is matured in the caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge. Additionally, some versions of Cheddar cheese are smoked.
The ideal quality of the original Somerset Cheddar was described by Joseph Harding in 1864 as “close and firm in texture, yet mellow in character or quality; it is rich with a tendency to melt in the mouth, the flavour full and fine, approaching to that of a hazelnut”
Cheddar made in the classical way tends to have a sharp, pungent flavour, often slightly earthy. Its texture is firm, with farmhouse traditional Cheddar being slightly crumbly; it should also, if mature, contain large cheese crystals consisting of calcium lactate – often precipitated when matured for times longer than six months.
Cheddar can be a deep to pale yellow (off-white) colour, or a yellow-orange colour when certain plant extracts are added. One commonly used spice is annatto, extracted from seeds of the tropical achiote tree. Annatto is added to give Cheddar a sweet nutty flavour. The largest producer of Cheddar cheese in the United States, Kraft, uses a combination of annatto and oleoresin paprika, an extract of the lipophilic (oily) portion of paprika.
Cheddar cheese was sometimes (and still can be found) packaged in black wax, but was more commonly packaged in larded cloth, which was impermeable to contaminants, but still allowed the cheese to “breathe.”