Types of Cheddar cheese

Cheddar is on everyone's shopping list for good reason. Here's some background on Canada's favourite cheese.

By Andrew Chase and The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
Photography by Edward Pond

What you should know about Cheddar cheese
Cheddar cheese is made in staggering quantities around the globe, mainly in English-speaking countries. It's certainly Canada's favourite cheese: Our annual national production is an impressive 120,000 tons, of which 5,000 tons are exported worldwide.

Where does Cheddar cheese come from?
Cheddar has come a long way from its origins as a farmhouse cheese in Cheddar Village, Somerset County, England. Close to a millennium ago, a dairy farmer in Cheddar invented the process now known as "Cheddaring," in which the kneaded salted curd is cut into slabs, layered and compressed into large blocks, creating the dense texture typical of the cheese. The blocks then mature through interior ripening. Cheddar cheese is sometimes coloured orange with a natural red extract made from annatto (achiote) seeds.

The different types of Cheddar cheese

Cheddar cheese is always aged:
 Mild Cheddar for at least three months
 Medium Cheddar for four to nine months
 Sharp, old and extra-old Cheddar ages anywhere from nine months to seven years (there are even some 10-year-old Cheddars on the market)

As Cheddar cheese ages, its flavour intensifies and it develops its hallmark attractive sharpness. Young Cheddar is smooth and fairly light in texture, while older cheeses are rich and dense, with a slightly dry, crumbly texture.

While all Cheddar is good for cooking, old, extra-old and two- or three-year-old cheeses are best. But who could argue with the true Canadian choice of medium or mild for a grilled cheese sandwich? Cheddar takes on added flavours well, such as in spreads and potted cheeses, and the rich flavour of smoked Cheddar has become more popular in recent years.

Industrial vs artisanal Cheddar cheese
Much of the Cheddar in Canada is produced by large companies. But artisanal cheese makers across the country are reviving some traditional English techniques, such as cloth-wrapping the cheeses before aging them, which allows more air in, yielding a drier texture and more complex flavour.

A new trend sees affineurs buying up artisanal Cheddars and aging them to tangy perfection in their shops. No matter which type you prefer, Cheddar is definitely better.

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