WHAT IS CHEDDAR?
What mozzarella is to the Italians, Cheddar is to the English. It is named after the village of its’ birth in Somerset, England. Much like the British empire, Cheddar cheese colonized much of the Western world since its’ inception in the 12th century. Originally made from cow’s milk, there are so many varieties made that only the manufacturing process has stayed the same. Traditionally curds are cut and reformed into blocks, otherwise known as “Cheddaring.” This makes the curds more acidic which makes the texture less crumbly, more rubbery. But not all of the cheese is made this way today. Some dry-stir the curd, some extrude it and other sinful practices. So even among traditional cheddar makers, there is no one “correct” way. Cheddar has become too successful and was too easy to make industrially. It is now more of a category then a specific recipe.
WHERE IS CHEDDAR MADE?
An easier question would be where is it not made? I’m going to go with China, 80% of whose population is allergic to lactose. So odds are if you end up in a cave in China, you’re more likely to find some bean curd or silken tofu.
IS MY CHEAP CHEDDAR EVEN CHEESE?
In the States the magic term here is “processed cheese.” A natural cheese by itself is 100% cheese while a processed cheese food is defined as having to have at least 51% real cheese. This is versus a processed cheese product that in the States can legally have less than 51% natural cheese. Could this be any worse? Yes, you could be eating wood, thinking it was actually Parmesan cheese.
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH CHEDDAR?
Wine-wise, Zinfandel, Carménère, a woody Chardonnay or a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon can work with a mature version of this cheese. Even a port wine, stout ale or medium body cider can hold their own. Remember that with aging, dairy bacteria break down the fat and proteins which make Cheddar taste “sharp.” If you want to create a nice whirlwind tour of England, compare this cheese with a Red Leicester and Tasty Lancashire for the subtle familial differences. Or for a more international cheese flight, look to a nice Brie de Meaux or a creamy Gorgonzola.