Cheddar originated in the town of Cheddar, in the county of Somerset, England, and is now one of the world’s most revered cheeses!
The word cheddar refers to the cheese itself, but it also refers to what’s done to the curds during the cheesemaking process. To ‘cheddar’ curds, the curds are left to sit at the bottom of the cheese vat so that they mat together and form slabs. Those slabs are then stacked on top of one another, flipped, and re-stacked over the course of a few hours in order to build acidity. This acidity is what translates into sharpness the longer the cheese is aged. The slabs are then milled into smaller pieces (that’s what fresh cheese curds or squeaky cheese is!), sprinkled with salt, and then those pieces are packed into larger blocks or wheels, pressed, and aged.
Due to the fact that cheddar is so high in acid and so low in moisture, it was an ideal cheese to transport from rural areas to urban centers in the days before refrigeration. Cheddar was also the first cheese to be mechanized in production… the first cheddar factory opened in Rome, New York, in 1851. From there, production of cheddar in the U.S and beyond skyrocketed, making it the behemoth of the cheese world we know today.
There are many different varieties and designations of cheddar – extra sharp, cave-aged, clothbound, smoked, and on and on! No matter what variety you get your hands on, if you can find a farmhouse, artisan, or farmstead cheddar, you’ll be rewarded with more flavor and nuance than the commodity fare found in most supermarkets.