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Cheddar Cheese : Interesting Facts and Pairing Ideas

In our series of articles on interesting facts and pairing ideas, for different types of cheese, we continue with the Cheddar, which is the most popular type of cheese in the UK and the second most popular cheese in the US.

Aged cheddar cheese wheel
Aged cheddar cheese wheel

Interesting Facts

  1. Cheddar originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, south west England and has been produced as far back as the 15th century. It is said that the best Cheddar was always made in the area around Cheddar Gorge, hence the adoption of the name.
  2. Cheddar Gorge contains a number of caves, which are said to have provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese. Still, today, some Cheddar cheese is matured in the caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge.
  3. Joseph Harding a 19-century Somerset dairyman is credited for the modernization and standardization of Cheddar cheese, through his technical innovations in the cheese-making process.
  4. Strong, extra-mature Cheddar, sometimes called vintage, needs to be matured for up to 15 months. 
  5. Today, Cheddar is made throughout the world and it describes the method of manufacture and the unique process of stacking called 'cheddaring' and turning the curds designed to speed up the draining of the whey, which is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
  6. West Country Farmhouse Cheddar produced in the UK, carries the 'Protected Designation of Origin' (PDO) badge which claims that the cheese is made by traditional methods from cow's milk, in the designated counties of Dorset, Devon, Somerset and Cornwall and matured for a minimum of nine months.
  7. Clothbound Cheddar historically refers to the aging process used for wrapping the cheese in cloth to limit moisture loss and form a hard rind, better protecting the aging wheels of the cheese. Today, clothbound cheddars are typically made by smaller producers due to the labor intensive process of aging, and they tend to have a better quality.
  8. Cheddar cheese provides small amounts of vitamins A, B12 and D and essential nutrients including calcium, protein and potassium.
  9. Cheddar cheese is the most popular cheese in the world. It is also the second most popular cheese in the US behind mozzarella.

Pairing Ideas

Joseph Harding who has been acclaimed as the 'father of Cheddar cheese' described the ideal quality of the original Somerset Cheddar as 'close and firm in texture, yet mellow in character, rich with a tendency to melt in the mouth and has full and fine flavor somewhat like hazelnut'.

Cheddar cheese has a firm and slightly crumbly texture with a complex mix of earthy, creamy, sweet, salty, nutty, hazelnut flavors. The flavors vary based on the dairy animal's diet, region of production and can range from very mild to sharp depending on the length of aging.  As Cheddar ages, it loses moisture and its texture become firmer and more crumbly, while acquiring a sharper taste.

Cheddar is a perfect pairing with fruits, crackers, crusty french bread and mustard. An aged Cheddar can be eaten on its own, if you enjoy its complex flavor.

Cheese tasting
Cheese tasting
Cheddar cheese can be paired with beer, wine or whiskey, but the pairing will depend on the age of the Cheddar.

The important aspect of pairing is to achieve balance of flavor, as the cheese should not overpower the drink or the drink should not bury the flavor of the cheese.

Pairing Cheddar and Beer

Cheddar that is aged around 9 -12 months goes will with Pilsner or Helles Lager which are smooth and crisp with mild bitterness and spicy flavor from Saaz hops. It also goes well with Kölsch, due to their smooth, fruity, crisp body with mild bitterness.

Cheddar aged for 2 or 3 years with dry, nutty, creamy flavor pairs well with brown ales which tend to be maltier and sweeter on the palate with a fuller body. Traditional British pale ale style beers which are malty, buttery, with light balanced hops or American pale ales which tend to be fruity and bitter, with a lighter malt flavor also pair well with the creamy flavor of the Cheddar; The choice of beer will depend on the creaminess and the sharpness of the Cheddar, as the bitterness of the hops helps match the sharpness of the Cheddar and also cut through its rich flavors.

Cheddar aged for 4 or more years is a good pairing with pale ales and Imperial IPA. Trappist ales such as Westvleteren 12 quadrupel, which have malty, dried fruit, nutty flavors with a slightly bitter finish also pairs well with an aged Cheddar.

Pairing Cheddar and Wine

Cheddar that is aged around 9 -12 months with slightly sweet buttery flavor is a good pairing with Chardonnay or Riesling. As it is aged for 2 to 3 years, it acquires dry, nutty, toasted, hazelnut flavors and goes well with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Barbera, Ruby Port, Champagne or other sparkling whites.

Cheddar aged for 4 or more years is a good pairing with an aged French Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Rioja, Nebbiolo, Red Rhône blends or Tawny Port.

Pairing Cheddar and Whiskey

Aged whiskey needs an aged Cheddar, complex and sturdy to stand up to it. An aged whiskey and an aged Cheddar share common flavor descriptors such as nutty, sweet, salty which can be used to complement or contrast individual flavors. Additionally depending on the kind of cask a whiskey has been aged, it acquires flavors such as dark fruit from sherry casks or honey from sauternes.

Bourbon whiskey aged in new charred oak barrels tends to have a sweet caramel and vanilla like flavor that complements aged Cheddar. Similarly rye whiskey aged in oak barrels and finished in sherry casks can add a sweet dried fruit flavor and smoothness to the whiskey, that would make a good pairing with aged Cheddar. Irish whiskies aged in sherry cask are also a good alternative for pairing as they tend to have a smooth finish with dried fruit and hazelnut tones.

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