It’s Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas/Solstice/Hanukkah/Kwanza to all of you out there in the blogosphere. Don’t you just love the holiday season? Doesn’t it make you think of cheese? I have been thinking about cheese a great deal-yes-don’t act surprised! I’m quite chagrined that I wasn’t more in love with yesterday’s cheese, Keen’s Cheddar. It’s awful when you want to like something, but don’t. I really wanted Keen’s to be the one. Everything seemed right about it, but it wasn’t. The thing is, I’m mad about cheddar-and I’m desperate to find the cheddar-the cheddar that I shall cuddle on the couch with in years to come, the cheddar that will become my cheese BFF, the cheddar that will go for long walks with me in the forest. OK, maybe not long walks.
I have briefly touched on the 1000 year history of cheddar. It has dominated the cheese scene since the second world war virtually extinguished thousands of British cheeses. Why, though- why cheddar? It’s believed that Romans brought the first cheddar recipes from France to Britain. Cheddar was made locally and on a small-scale just like all other cheeses until the 19th century when it became the first cheese to be “modernized.” A man named Joseph Harding known as the father of Cheddar Cheese (omg, so jealous of this name) mechanized the cheese making process of cheddar including developing a “revolving breaker” for curd which was called the “Joseph Harding method”. This was the very first scientific approach to cheese making, and basically because of Harding, and its awesome taste-let’s be fair-Cheddar got the jump on all other cheese. The Harding family introduced their production methods to North America and their son took it to Australia, and so the Cheddar making technique, and cheddar itself spread across the land, like melted cheese from a spilt fondue!
Cheddar is made just about everywhere. Today’s cheddar is a raw milk cow cheese from the Québécois Ile aux Grues (Goose Island.) This is a fromagerie on a small island in the St. Lawrence river-I have previously sampled and reviewed their cheese, “Riopelle.” According to their website: http://www.fromagesileauxgrues.com/cheese-house/ Ile aux Grues is a co-operative of 5 dairies working together since the 1970’s. They only use milk from their island herd of Brown Swiss cows that munch exclusively on the marsh grass of the island-the best of all grasses for cheese production!
I’m excited and a little alarmed that I see no reference to a 4 year cheddar on their website, only a mild cheddar and a two-year cheddar-yet my label clearly states “4 years.” Could it be a two-year cheddar that was overlooked for a while? Maybe it’s special! Speaking of special, isn’t eating 4-year-old cow milk special. Think about it, shouldn’t this kill me? That it doesn’t is testimony to the wonder of our friends, the cheese microbes and their ability to transform a bit of rotting milk into the preserved sublime.
My little square of mysterious 4 year Ile de Grues cheddar sits quietly on my desk. Cheddar does tend to behave itself, it ‘s firm and self-contained, uniform and smooth. The paste is pale and creamy, there is no rind. I don’t think this was a traditional cloth bound cheddar, there are no wrappings to take off. It smells very mild, no hint of rot or nastiness of any kind, it’s hard to believe it’s 4 years old!
Wow! Tangy! So intense and cheddary, it’s like distilled essence of cheddar. It’s cheddar moonshine. It’s like every cheddar you ever ate was put into a centrifuge and spun at high velocity until the cheddar flavour only remained-and then you ate that. Really, wow. It is a perfect balance of salt, tang and yum. I could wear this as cheese perfume. People would follow me like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Oh yes..this is the one. I have been looking for you a long time, my little friend! Your texture is also sublime. Thanks to the Harding method you are so smooth and creamy. You aren’t crumbly like the Keen’s cheddar yesterday, and you don’t have the same tyrosine or calcium lactate crunch as the Keen’s. But that’s ok with me, little friend, it’s just a smooth ride the whole way from bite to swallow. This is just an amazingly piquant cheese, and I am actually drooling now after having a little nibble, salivary glands are going overtime dealing with this taste. Great job, Ile aux Grues 4 year cheddar, oh, what a friend I have in (your) cheese-us!