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Cheddar cheese history
Did You Know?
During World War II, the British Government banned all types of cheese, except a certain form of cheddar, which was later nicknamed as 'Government Cheddar'. The ban, which was imposed as a part of war rationing, was lifted nine years after the end of the war.
This shows the popularity of this cheese during that period of history. Till date, the popularity and demand for cheddar cheese is intact. Today, it is considered one of the most sought-after types of cheese; not only in the United Kingdom, but also in other parts of the world. Though cheddar cheese originated in England, it is now produced and consumed in other regions, like the United States, Iceland, Canada, and Australia.
Cheddar cheese is a hard, natural cheese made from cow's milk. It has a mild to moderate flavor, but aged versions have a characteristic sharpness. The natural color of this cheese is pale yellow to off-white. Some manufacturers add 'annatto,' extracted from the achiote tree or oil made from paprika, to get a deep orange color. Even food colors are used for different hues. Cheddar cheese undergoes the process of 'cheddaring,' which is alien to other types of cheese.
Where was Cheddar Cheese Invented?
cheese stored in somersets wookey hole cave.
Cheddar cheese stored in Somerset's Wookey Hole Cave.
It is believed that cheddar cheese was developed by the villagers of Cheddar in Somerset, England. With its rich pastures, Somerset was considered the center of England's dairy industry. According to a local tale, a milkmaid kept a bucket full of milk in the Cheddar caves. She forgot to collect it, and at a later stage, found that the milk had been transformed to something else, which tasted good. This incident prompted the villagers to try out the possibility of developing this product.
Though there is no evidence to prove the exact period of invention of cheddar cheese, it is said that the official account books of King Henry II (1154-1189) mention the purchase of 10,000 pounds of cheddar cheese. So the origin of cheddar cheese can be dated back to the late 12th century. At that time, there was no refrigeration, and making cheese was the best method to save surplus milk. With a constant temperature and high humidity, caves in the Cheddar region provided ideal locations for maturing cheese.

Originally, cheddar cheese was made by dairy farmers, and there was no mass production. Later, a local system was developed to make cheese by collecting milk from livestock farmers. Each farmer received his share of cheese in proportion to the quantity of milk contributed by him. It was Joseph Harding, a dairy farmer from Somerset, who introduced new techniques and equipment for cheese-making, during the nineteenth century.
Method of Manufacture
wisconsin state quarter
The Wisconsin's state quarter features a wheel of cheese, along with an ear of corn and a cow.
In the United States, Wisconsin is the largest producer of cheddar cheese.
Cheddar cheese was manufactured manually, till Joseph Harding introduced the scientific methods of cheese production. The raw material for the traditional method was unpasteurized milk collected from the dairymen of Somerset. Raw milk is curdled using animal rennet (enzyme collected from the stomach of a milk-fed calf). After heating the curd, it is cut into slabs, kneaded with salt, filled in molds, and pressed to remove the whey (watery part of curd). The cheese wheels are covered with larded cloth and are kept at a constant temperature for maturing. Sometimes, black wax is used for coating the cheese. They are turned at regular intervals, at least once a week. This process of stacking, pressing, and turning of cheese is termed cheddaring, which is unique for cheddar cheese.
Modernization
As mentioned earlier, Joseph Harding pioneered modernization of cheddar cheese manufacturing process. He introduced scientific ways of cheese-making in England, and also initiated propagation of this method in Scotland and North America. Harding's innovative equipment included the 'revolving cutter,' which was made for cutting curd. He always insisted on dairy hygiene and perfect temperature control. Considering his contributions to this field, he is often called the father of cheddar cheese. Today, cheddar cheese is made of pasteurized milk, in fully mechanized surroundings. Only West County Farmhouse has been accredited with a PDO (protected designation of origin) by the European Union.
The Traditional Method of Making Cheddar Cheese
┗ Raw milk collected from one of the four English counties - Somerset, Cornwall, Devon or Dorset, is used.
┗ Animal rennet is used for curdling.
┗ Coloring agents are not used.
┗ Cheddaring is done manually.
┗ Larded cloth is used for wrapping cheese, before storage.
┗ Cheese should be matured for at least nine months.
It is said that the quality of handmade authentic cheddar cheese depends on various factors, like use of locally produced fresh milk, careful handling of milk, use of animal rennet, etc. Nowadays, machines are used at some stages, instead of manual cheddaring. Some of the authentic cheddar cheese manufacturers are so particular about the quality of their products that they grow their own grass for feeding the cows. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company follows the traditional method and matures its cheese in the Cheddar gorge itself. In the United States, cheddar cheese is very popular, and is produced in large quantities. In fact, it is the second most popular cheese in the country, after mozzarella.
Different Types of Cheddar
mature cheddar cheese
Mature Cheddar Cheese
Depending on the age and level of sharpness, cheddar cheese is available in different types - mild, medium, old or mature, and extra mature.
The maturation period of mild cheddar cheese is around three months. This type of cheese is semi-hard, and has a smooth and slightly crumbly texture. While the medium versions are ripened for five to six months, mature cheddar cheese takes around ten months. The medium version has a firm texture and a mild flavor; whereas the mature ones have a slightly pronounced hazelnut flavor and a dry and grainy texture. Extra mature cheddar cheese is ripened for a period of 15 months, and has a very sharp flavor. You may also find vintage varieties that are aged for more than 18 months. Smoked cheddar cheese is also available in the market. Some manufacturers have introduced different types of flavored cheddar cheese, using ingredients like herbs and spices.
Though cheddar cheese originated in England, now, it is manufactured and consumed in other regions too. Over the years, it has been savored by people all over the world. If you are an exception, grab a pack of this cheese, the next time you visit a supermarket.