Josh of Jasper Hill Farm (surrounded by wheels of that much coveted Cabot Clothbound Cheddar!) is asking himself this very same question. But I think we can all agree that the answer is yes! I mean, without cheddar where would we be as a cheese loving people? In a dark dark place. That much is certain.
In keeping with the tradition of the cheese myths debunked! series, we are here to shed a little light on the old cheddar in the cave. Cheddar is one of the all time most popular cheeses in the history of American cheese. In recent years, mozzarella has usurped the number one spot for most popular cheese in the US (can you say Domino’s pizza, anyone?) however, the kind of cheddar we’re talking about belongs in a league of it’s own.
So what is it that makes cheddars different from all their cheesy relatives?
In addition to being a most tasty and delectable cheese, the word cheddar is also a verb. It is a part of the cheese making process that lends an uber-creamy and dense texture to the cheese, as well as a plucky, makes-you-pucker sharpness. So, how do you cheddar a cheese? It all starts in the cheese vat. After the curds have been cooked and stirred, all the whey is drained from the vat, leaving a thick carpet of curds on the bottom. These curds mat and stick together, compressed by their own weight and mass. After letting them sit for a little bit, the cheese maker slices this mass of curds into rectangular blocks and stacks them on top of one another. For the next hour or so of cheese making, these blocks of curd are flipped and re-stacked by hand at 15 minute intervals.
Why the heck does the cheese maker put himself through this kind of torturous extra work, you might ask? Well for one thing, it’s way cheaper than buying a membership to a gym. And, seriously now, it has everything to do with the end flavor and texture of the cheese! The more the curd is handled, the higher the acidity level goes. For a super sharp cheese like cheddar, this is a good thing. An acidic curd will produce a stronger, prickle-your-taste-buds cheese in the end.
After all the flipping and stacking is done, there is yet one more semi-grueling step to complete in order to make an authentic cheddar. The curd must be milled. What the heck does that mean? Well, depending on how big your cheese making operation is, it could mean a number of things. Some small cheese makers will mill their curd by hand, meaning that they cut up those aforementioned blocks of curd into small cubes. Larger cheese operations mill their curd with a machine, which resembles your garden variety mulcher. The blocks of curd are fed into one end of the mill, where they are shredded down into small chunks and spit out the other side. The milling of the curd ensures that the cheese will have a very dense and compact texture, which makes it ideal for aging.
After the curd is milled, it is salted directly in the vat and mixed thoroughly through one more time. The curds are then pressed into molds and aged anywhere from a few months to upwards of eight years! The older the cheese, the more thick and compact the texture becomes, and of course, it grows sharper with each passing year. Watch out for those super aged cheddars… they’ll put a hurt on ya!
At Saxelby Cheesemongers, we’ve got a little bit of everything cheddar-ish: from fresh cheddar cheese curds from Hillcrest Dairy to cloth-bandaged cheddar from the cellars at Jasper Hill Farm to two-year-old Grafton cheddar from Vermont.
So stop on in and make the acquaintance of a tart and tasty cheddar. Your tummy will thank you.