Day 53-Keen’s Cheddar


It’s finally happened-53 days in.  I thought of eating cheese this morning and a little voice inside of me went, “oh f*ck, not cheese.”  It passed, quickly-don’t be alarmed!  But it turns out that I don’t have an infinite love of cheese-which is actually ok, as this blog will come to an end in 47 days, and then what?  Am I supposed to hang out in cheese shops with a long face, hoping someone will throw me a rind?  Am I to take up cheese making?  This madness must come to an end.

Speaking of madness, can you believe we are at cheese 53 and it’s only today I am trying Cheddar?  Why it’s the “single most popular cheese in the world!”  Well, at least according to John Cleese. Before starting my folly of fromage Cheddar was the only cheese I would ever go out and purchase. I knew it came in three flavours: orange, white and marbled-0h, also shredded.  God, that’s embarrassing. I hope by now, we all know that colour means nothing, the orange of Cheddar is actually a dye called annatto, it was historically used to colour crappy cheese to look like really good cheese and the convention stuck.  Also, the colour has nothing to do with the taste, it’s all about the culture, the affinage (the aging) and the recipe. And, there is no such thing as “marbled cheddar.” Shudder. The horror.

So…Cheddar.  There’s actually so much to say, that I am breaking this into a couple of posts. First, Cheddar is a cow cheese produced in many countries-the name cheddar is not protected, although it is actually named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England. It’s the most popular cheese in the UK and number 2 behind mozzarella in the USA (must be all the pizza and stuff).

Cheddar has been made in Somerset for about one thousand years…the “Cheddar Gorge” and “Wookey Grove” have a number of Cheddar caves in continuous use for a millennium (is it just me or do these sound like a cheese version of Willy Wonka?)  The second world war almost knocked out the British cheese making tradition.  Many cheeses became extinct as almost all milk was used for making a single cheese called “government cheddar.”  Before the war there were almost 3,500 cheeses in England, and after the war fewer than 100 remained.  Holy Hannah, looks like the real victor of WW2 was cheddar.  How did I miss that one in the history books?

Keen’s Cheddar is a raw milk cheddar which has been artisanally made since 1899.  It’s cloth bound and matured for 12 months in some cave with a fabulous name (nice website at http://www.keenscheddar.co.uk/).  Although the term cheddar isn’t protected, the phrase “West Farmhouse Cheddar” is PDO  (Product of Designated Origin) and Keen’s has this designation. The Keen family has its own cows and makes its own cheese onsite-that’s why they get away with using raw milk-their cows only graze at Blackmoor vale.   This cheese is an award winner  taking home, ” first prizes at the Nantwich International Cheese show 2009, Gold award at the world cheese awards  held in Dublin, and the best PDO Cheese at the British Cheese Awards.”

My little chunk of Keen’s looks like…well, Cheddar cheese.  It’s white and creamy and kind of firm-but not dried out.  There’s a little bit of cloth that you need to take off, they remind me of mummy wrappings.  In all my cheddar eating years I have never peeled off a bit of cloth, so you do have to wonder what I have been eating.  Not real cheddar. It smells yummy and cheesey, and well-cheddary.

Here goes…

Wow, what in the world is this?  If this is cheddar, (and it is) I have been eating something else entirely. First, the texture is what you would expect, firm, yet creamy, no surprises except for the crunchy tyrosine crystals-crunchy cheddar, that’s a first for me. The taste is so sharp it makes my salivary glands squirt.  It’s much more intense that I was expecting.  It tastes like cows and booze, and tears-likes bovine teens on a bender.  It’s faintly barnyardy-but also quite salty and just a tiny bit sweet. I’m strangely not liking this cheese.  I want to like it, but it just doesn’t taste right- perhaps my taste buds have been ruined by crappy cheddar.  The thing is, crappy cheddar, has been one of my “go to” comfort foods, it’s the taste I am most familiar with, and even though this cheese is patently better, it’s just not what I am expecting. Sorry, Keen’s, it’s unfair, if only you had gotten to me first!

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