Cheese, Cheese 101, Semi-soft / Semi-firm cheese

Cheddar is Better! – What makes it a cheddar?

If you come to visit any of our full-service Vineyard Markets during the weekend, then you know that it is the place to be; every Friday and Saturday we sample all sorts of products from the department–especially cheese! One of the biggest questions I get asked when a customer tries a cheese is: “What kind of cheese is this?” I think it’s high time that I answer that question for you!

Cheddar creamy vs crumbly
A creamy cheddar, Cabot Legacy White Oak, contrasted by the crumbly Somerdale Vintage Cheddar, “Enjoy Me with Red Wine”.

After sampling our incredible new June Cheese of the Month, from the Mull of Kintyre creamery (read about it HERE), I figured that it would be a good place to start. The variety that we’re featuring at Bottle King is Mull of Kintyre’s Extra Mature Cheddar. So what exactly makes a cheddar a cheddar?

Originally created in the English village of Cheddar, the term has become a much more generic description for similar cheeses made all around the world. Cheddar cheeses tend to be semi-firm in hardness; they become crumbly when aged, yet they are creamy while still young. Also characteristic of this variety is a “sharp” or acidic flavor, varying from a mellow tang to a strong bite. You may think these traits are enough to give a cheese the right to call itself a cheddar, but there’s more to the story–I will make a cheesemonger out of you yet! To understand exactly is the defining characteristic of a cheddar, we need a brief understanding of how cheese is made.

After gathering the milk necessary, cheesemakers adjust its fat content and choose whether or not to heat and pasteurize it. An enzyme is then added to the milk in order to acidify it and break down some of its proteins. Next, a type of rennet (animal, vegetable, or microbial) is added in order to turn the milk into a gel-like consistency; this is then cut into smaller pieces to being separating the curds from the whey (remember Little Miss Muffet?). This mixture is then cooked and stirred until it reaches the cheesemakers’ desired state, and the whey is then drained so that the curds may be used to make the cheese.

Slabs of cheese curds are stacked upon one another.
Slabs of cheese curds are stacked upon one another.

Cheddars require an additional step here in the process, known traditionally as “cheddaring.” This is where the curds are cut into cubes to drain additional whey and are knit together to make slabs. These slabs are then turned and stacked upon one another a number of times. Oftentimes because of this stacking, cheddars are produced in very large blocks–here in the Bottle King Vineyard Markets, we get some single pieces of cheddar weighing in at 45 pounds!

So next time you share a piece of cheddar with a friend, be sure to pass your newfound cheesy knowledge along!

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