Today’s guest writer is Kenneth Haynes. He is a Molecular Gastronomist, who loves to examine and experiment with the texture and taste of food and drinks. He loves cheese, and so do we! Here’s his guestpost.
Cheddar is one of the world’s most popular cheeses. Unfortunately, the mass-produced variety doesn’t offer much in the way of the delicious, complex flavors available in many of the world’s favorite cheddar cheeses. Cheese aficionados know that there are certain places across the globe where you can experience the beauty and wonder of a truly fine aged cheddar cheese.
Cheddar is made by separating the curds and whey with rennet, along with an additional process called ‘cheddaring’. Once the cheese is heated and kneaded with salt, the resulting substance is cut into cubes and drained of whey. In order to get a good vintage cheddar, it needs to be aged at least 15 months.
Afterwards, different cheddars can have various ages, which are evident in the complexity and flavors it brings out in the final product. Many cheesemakers also add different herbs, spices, and peppers to create a large variety of different cheeses to please even the most discerning cheese lover.
Here is my list of Top Places in the World for Tasting Aged Cheddar…
1. Wisconsin, USA
Wisconsin cheese and cheesemakers are famous.. some say, even better than that of Switzerland and The Netherlands. Don’t take our word for it, but read it here and here. Cheese is one of the most important exports from this state, and there are more cheese shops than you can shake a stick at. Artisanal before there was ever such a term, Wisconsin cheesemakers have been creating delicious cheeses for many years, and offering their wares in roadside cheese shops for decades.
One of the most famous, Rybicki, has had a store in the Mall of America for several years, tempting customers with its free cheese samples. Another example is Wisconsin Cheeseman Sharp Cheddar Cheese, which makes a very good sharp cheddar. Check out the difference between ‘mild,’ ‘sharp,’ and ‘extra sharp’ cheddar cheese here. And if you are a true cheese aficionado, check out this website that’s covers most of the current cheesy matters of the world. Some people visit the Mall in order to try new innovative cheeses, including flavors like ghost pepper and dill. Wisconsin cheesemakers have long been America’s answer to Europe’s dominance over the cheese industry.
There were other places in which cheddar was made, most notably Canada, where the farming population turned to dairy following a wheat midge outbreak. However, James Kraft, who started the processed cheese company, put an end to Canadian cheesemaking.
Therefore, truly decadent artisanal cheddars are rarer than they once were, and it’s worth traveling to taste some of the best cheeses in the world, especially when paired with wine or whisky in its countries of origin. It’s also a fascinating cheese with an incredible history that has spread across the world, outdoing most other cheese varieties to take its place as the apex of cheeses.
Cheddar is still one of the most popular cheeses in the world. It is so common in Australia, for example, that it isn’t even called ‘cheddar’ as it is synonymous with cheese. However, a truly delicious vintage cheddar is an experience any foodie would enjoy, and the history around cheddar in these areas is worth learning.
For anyone with a true passion for cheese, the pilgrimage to these far-flung parts of the world will be worth it to enjoy the experience of sinking your teeth into the creamy, delicious flavor of a good vintage cheddar cheese.
2. Cheddar, England
If you’re a true cheddarhound, why not go straight to the source? The cheese was first produced in Cheddar, England. Although the word cheddar is not protected, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar can only come from Somerset, Dorset, or Cornwall. Cheddar is the place that made the cheese famous, but only the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company still offers it in the region.
It’s also located near the great cheese run, where people race each other down the hill for the reward of a cheese wheel. This race is dangerous and causes multiple injuries each year, so it’s obvious that the cheddar in this region is worth trying.
Cave-aged cheddar is also a popular choice here, and the various innovations when it comes to making cheddar cheese are used throughout this portion of the country. Regardless of the style or age of cheddar you choose, all cheddars with a United Kingdom or Irish origin tend to be sharper than anything you will find on a supermarket shelf in the United States. However…
Irish cheddar is some of the creamiest, most poignant cheddar in the world. An island nation green as emeralds, with its livestock wandering throughout the countryside, an environment kissed with rain and welcoming people into its dark pubs for a pint and a chat in the evening, Ireland is already infused with the good life.
Irish cheddar is one of the proudest exports of the nation, and even supermarket varieties far outshine anything available in the United States. If you’re interested in the taste and flavor of a real vintage Irish cheddar cheese, pairing it with Argentinian Malbec is one of the best ways to experience the incredible layers of sharp, delicious flavors that are part and parcel of all Irish cheddars.
4. Auvergne, France
If I would recommend a place in France for tasting cheese in general, Auvergne would be it. Why? Well, it has the largest number of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses, guaranteeing this way quality and safety (if that was needed).
The Cantal cheese is a product similar to cheddar and it comes in three forms and flavors: young (jeune), in-between (entre-deux), and old (vieux). Also, categorized by the type of milk it is produced from, it is divided in Cantal Fermier (raw milk) and Cantal Laitier (pasteurized milk). It is aged in the mountain heights of the Cantal department of France, in former railway tunnels. It dates back to the times of Gauls and got `mainstream’ when served by Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre at the table of Louis XIV of France.
5. Vermont, USA
The Vermont Cheddar is also called the ‘White Cheddar’ and its specific is that it doesn’t contain annatto (an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree). What I find funny about it is that it is called Vermont Cheddar regardless of the place of provenience.
The process of cheddaring is not a complex one: great slabs of freshly made cheese is stacked so its own weight presses out unwanted whey, and that actually happens at the Shelburne farms in Vermont.
6. La Mancha
The Manchego cheese – also similar to cheddar – made in the La Mancha region, is the milk of sheep of the ‘manchega’ breed. If you want to taste the ‘official’ Manchego cheese, you have to know it has to be aged between 6 months and 2 years.
It is compact with a buttery texture and often contains air pockets. The color can vary from white from ivory-yellow and its inedible rind from yellow to brownish-beige, depending on the age of the cheese.
Those are the PDO requirements for queso manchego:
- It must have been produced in the provinces of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca or Toledo.
- It has to be made from whole milk of sheep of the manchega breed.
- It must be aged at least 60 days.
- It must be produced by pressing in a cylindrical mould that has a maximum height of 12 cm (4.7 in) and a maximum diameter of 22 cm (8.7 in).