(a line-up of different cheddars)
Is all cheddar created equal?
It does not surprise me that cheddar is the second most consumed cheese in the US after Mozzarella. Cheddar originated in South West England in a town named “Cheddar.” It has a medium hard texture, meaning it is sliceable and is firm to the bite. Aged cheddar can have a golden hue and will have a sharp flavor nuance to it. Often you’ll encounter orange colored cheddar which comes from annatto seeds. The only reason it is added in the cheese making process is customer appeal.
What makes cheddar distinctive in terms of cheese-making is “cheddaring”, which is an additional step where the curds are kneaded with salt, cut into cubes and then pressed off the whey (excess liquid in cheese making).
(New York State cheddar)
Finding good cheddar shouldn’t be much of a problem. Cheese counters in stores and supermarket alike generally have a variety of cheddars to offer. You’ll notice a wide price range when it comes to this popular cheese – so which one to pick?
Frankly the waxy mass produced cheddars can be hideous compared to an artisanal made cheddar. Indeed commercialized cheddar is far from the cheddar our British forefathers intend to create. But even in the artisanal range there are so many cheddars so here are some tips . .
Most Important ingredient - Milk
In the US dairy industry the great majority of cows are injected with growth hormones to accelerate milk production. These poor cows don’t eat much grass in their lives. Instead their diet consists of monotonous GMOs (genetically modified organism) like corn, soy “product” and they’re regularly injected with antibiotics to prevent disease. Indeed we have to be highly skeptical of such milk since many cancers such as breast and prostate are linked to ultra high hormone intake which comes mainly from dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Such hormones are immediately transferred into the bodies’ bloodstream since it is not broken down/digested in our stomach. Look at how much bigger children are these days – many scientists link this with the dairy industry excess hormone dosages and kids are particularly heavy dairy consumers in the US. If you want to avoid this hormone intake look for “rBGH" free on the dairy label (on your supermarket cheese and other dairy products). It indicates that the cheese was produced with cow’s milk that was NOT injected with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. In the artisan cheese production you’ll more than likely encounter hormone-free milk, but it’s good to check with the cheese monger since this is a basic in the high quality cheese circle.
Aging cheddar – or babying the cheese is how I like to think of it -- makes a big difference in flavor, texture and the look of the cheese. Aging is often done in caves, which gives cheese character besides being in the ideal humidity,and temperature conditions. Sounds old fashioned but it works perfectly fine. In the aging process cheddar (like other cheeses) sits out naked on wooden shelves. The cheese is turned every so often to expose it to the surroundings and inhibit bad bacteria growth, which would spoil the cheese. Long aged cheddar (up to 15 months) can have a sublime texture and flavor since tiny salt crystals have formed with the milk protein, which can evoke a close-your-eyes-and-dream experience. It will melt in your mouth easily with a creamy texture with nuances of salted hazelnuts. A commercialized version of cheddar does not get the aging treatment but often has additives to fake a similar flavor experience. This is how a particular cheese can get rather pricey versus not at all.
(Cabot cheddar from Vermont)
Cheddar and heat
Let’s say you decide to do some cooking with cheddar e.g. combining that farmer’s market cheddar with a burger, sounds good. But don’t completely melt the cheese instead just wilt it so that the cheese tjust begins to take on the shape of the burger. The hotter the cheese gets the fat starts dripping out of its structure and great character and flavor are lost. It becomes a very average product.