11 June 2007

cheddar - right back to the farm

In the fromage world, cheddar commands one of the heftiest purviews and may well be the most popular cheese. It spans the Kraft slices that end up on your burger to exotic English variants in snooty parlors. To understand fromage, we must begin to understand cheddar.
From a technical vantage point, cheddar is easy to summarize. A cow's milk cheese, cheddar is not named for the region of origin, but for an additional processing called "cheddaring". After the whey is drained from the curds, the blocks of cheese are turned and stacked to give cheddar is unique texture. The flavor of a cheddar should improve with age - so the older the better. You can make a good guess of a cheddar's origin based on the color. English cheddars are always their natural beige, Wisconsin cheddars have a distinctive orange color, and Vermont's are often very white.
From a gustatory vantage point, cheddar is an entirely different story. With such a long history and popularity, one cannot make blanket statements about this cheese. In particular, the availability of small production American cheddars and English Farm House cheddars provide an opportunity to experience the range of this venerable cheese.
In order to tame cheddar, the fromage du mois tasting plan was simply: pick a few cheddars and compare contrast. See the comments for details!

From Jenkins: "Cheese Precept 8 - The harder the cheese, the longer it will stay fresh."


  1. a small fromage du mois assemblage had a comparative tasting of cheddars: kerrygold vintage irish cheddar (aged 12 months), neal's yard westcombe red (england), and hook's farm 10-year cheddar (wisconsin). we also had a couple of bottles of red wine. everything is as jenkins claims. the irish was excellent on it's own, but as the youngest, was quickly overshadowed by both the neal's year and the hook's. my personal favorite was the hook's - it smells like a summer day on a farm. it's flavor was dynamic, strong, subtle, powerful, and just plain delicious. to be sure, all of these cheddars are amazing, but at $33/lb, the hook's is worth the price.
    the texture was very similar across all three, with the irish being the softest. the older the cheese, the harder it gets.
    the tasting inspired me to try more exotic cheddars - especially those from the us.

    here's some information on these cheeses:

    Kerrygold Vintage Irish Cheddar

    Neal's Yard Westcombe Red

    Hook's farm 10-year cheddar

  2. as a member of said fdm assemblage, i also sampled the three aforementioned cheddars.

    the kerrygold (irish) was white and smooth and subtly delectable… a subtleness that proved to be its downfall as well as its distinction, for it was outshined, outsmarted, and outcheddared by its rivals. my fromage compatriots were wowed by the hook’s farm (usa), and with good reason: with its harder, crumblier texture and complex flavour, it was certainly an intriguing cheese. it had a delightful grassyness to it that reminded me of running through a field of clover.

    though i appreciate the je ne sais quoi of the hook’s farm, it was the neal’s yard (british) that had my heart. sweetlord, what a cheese. i'm told that its bright orange hue is highly unorthodox for a british cheddar, which earns it mad points in my aesthetic column. as for taste: think exquisite caramelly yogurty creaminess coupled with a gustatory ZING that is out of this world. i could have eaten this tangy cheese all day and never been sated.

    generally speaking, cheddar is a fromage of great complexity and utility. I shall consume quite a bit more of it before my cheesetasting days are through. 8 slices.

  3. WOw, let me just say I am jealous that I missed the assemblage. Wow.

    I will absolutely keep the Hook's farm (10-years of aging? that is outrageously sharp and wonderful) way up there. I will look for these three Cheddars, actually, in the next day or two and see what I can scrounge up.

    That is pretty funny that Chedda and Gouda et al tried the Neal's yard cheddar, because this is the only English cheddar cheese I have knowingly tried-- man it really did have a Zing. I was turned off from it, I don't know why-- I feel as if it was too acrid, maybe too much of a kick that was out of proportion to its other contributing flavors? What do you guys think?

    I just found the Neal's Yard image gallery for the Westcombe cheddar process-- incredible: http://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/thecheeses.html#
    (click on Cheddars)

    In any event, I will try to get a couple of these three, if not all, and then also share my recent cheddar experience with a raw, Cow's milk cheddar from a small farm here about 90 miles outside of Washington, DC.

    Until then...

  4. Greetings, cheese nips. I'm a philistine phriend of Goudachris and am looking forward to contributing to your dairy diary. As a starving artist, I couldn't empty my Wamu account to purchase any of that hook farm chedda. But I did adhere to the rules by breaking off a piece of the Kerrygold mold. Striking, but not over-powering, I found this to taste like a mouth full of mac n' cheese. Coupled with an always smooth Young's Oatmeal Stout, it made me hearken back to my salad days in college. When I didn't actually eat salad, just macaroni and beer. Good times indeed.

  5. I thought about this today. A 10-year aged cheddar must have an absolutely phenomenal taste. I need to get some of the Hook's Farm....