Welcome back from Christmas, everyone, I hope you had a groovy one. On my third and final day of Cheddar we shall answer the question: what is cheddar? Cheddar is a cheese that has a special final stage done to it…it’s called…cheddaring! After making and heating the cheese curds they are kneaded with salt-the salty curd is then cut into cubes and stacked to drain the whey. This is “cheddaring” and results in that creamy yet firm texture, which is also dry, yet moist. Cheddar can be eaten after 2-3 months, or aged more. Vintage cheddar is matured at least 15 months, up to eight years. The maturation is tricky and needs special temperature and humidity-preferably caves, preferably, with groovy names. Classic cheddar is cloth bound and after 6 months of aging will contain calcium lactate crystals, which I have confused with tyrosine-it’s that little crunch in your cheese-calcium lactate in Cheddar, tyrosine in Gouda, Gruyère and parmesan. Traditional Cheddar cheese is sometimes packaged in black wax, but more often is wrapped in buttered cloth which keeps the cheese clean while allowing it to “breath.”
Unlike that orange crap you buy at the super market, real cheddar is never soapy in texture, it should be a little brittle and crumbly. Cheddar should also be off white in colour, but is one of the most popular dyed cheeses, traditionally with annatto. Kraft-the largest producer of industrial cheddar uses an extract of paprika along with annatto to colour its cheese. Cheddar these days is either industrial (more common) or artisanal, and the difference between these two is vast.
In the USA, cheddar cheese that has not been coloured is often labelled as “Vermont Cheddar” regardless of where it is made. There is a whole world out there of fake cheddar flavoured products, and this will be the only time in this blog that I refer to them. These pre-packaged “dinners,” “cheeze in a can,” “spreads,” and other heinous inventions are NOT cheese and they are NOT cheddar. In fact, I’m not sure they are even “food.” If it says “processed cheese” it’s not actually cheese, it’s something else- just walk on by.
Luckily, today’s cheddar is the real thing, it’s a raw milk cloth bound from Avonlea, home of Anne of Green Gables. I like to think of Anne and Gilbert, strolling down those red roads munching on this cheese! This cheddar is aged for 12 months and wrapped in linen, old school style-it’s the only Canadian maker of this style of cheddar. Dairy big-wig Scott Linkletter-owner of COWS ice-cream company, fell in love with real cheddar and decided to bring it to Canada. He hooked up with cheese maker Armand Bernard and they took an old Scottish recipe from the Orkney Islands with some tweaks and invented their own unique version-Avonlea. Thus, it’s a relatively new cheese, but in the old fashion. This cheese was awarded first place at the 2009 American Cheese Society awards.
As you can see from the photo below, my little slice of Avonlea cloth bound cheddar has crumbled to bits-nicely demonstrating the texture of traditional cheddar-this is cheddar, not that spongey, soapy orange stuff. We have been fooled, people! It’s a nice buttery colour, and true to its name, is wrapped in a linen bandage smeared with butter (gosh, that sounds a little naughty!) I can barely smell this one, it’s not a vintage cheddar, it’s only aged for 12 months, so that piquant hit of the older cheddars isn’t here, it’s very mild.
Hmmm, tangy, salty, a tiny bit sweet, no hint of rot, no ammonia at all-it’s quite benign. Smooth paste texture with no crystal crunch. But wait…there’s just the faintest hint of mould, mushroom and barn that you have to really focus to taste, it’s hiding under this facade of being a “proper little cheese.” Actually, it’s a little perverse, and I like that! Initially it seems to be a well-behaved cheese, but the more I eat it, the more I taste the complexity and mystery and danger. It’s like that boy you dated that your parents really liked because he seemed so nice-but he actually wasn’t nice- but in a really fun way…you know, like that? I prefer a little naughtiness in my cheese, but I appreciate that not everyone does. This cheese allows me both, in one buttered little slice. Nice work, Avonlea!