Welcome to the first installment of the Figi’s Cheese Blog Series! In this series, you’ll learn about the flavor, versatility and history of different types of cheeses; we’ll also give you cheese pairing options, answer common cheese questions and give a few recipes along the way. Our series begins with cheddar.
Foodies, and those for whom eating is a more casual affair, agree: cheese makes many dishes more delicious. Of all cheese options out there, cheddar is arguably the ‘cheese of choice’ for the largest number of people. It’s easy to see why: cheddar offers flavor variety; from mild to rich and sharp. Add cheddar cheese to a bland dish, and voilà! Loads of taste! Add cheddar cheese to an already flavorful dish, salad or sandwich to enhance other ingredients.
What kinds of cheddar are there? There are many varieties of cheddar available; here is a breakdown for you:
- Fresh unpressed (cheese curds): Unripened curds, straight out of the vat, have become very popular - especially in our home state of Wisconsin. We especially like them battered and deep-fried! Cheese curds are a healthy snack…when not deep-fried and they nicely compliment fruit and veggie trays.
- Mild: This cheddar is soft and mild in flavor as it ripens for a short time; typically for three months.
- Medium: This cheddar is more firm in texture and tastes a bit like hazelnuts. It typically ripens for four to nine months.
- Sharp: This cheddar has a firmer, dryer and more granular texture. This cheddar ripens for nine months to two years and as its name indicates…tastes ‘sharp.’ Some would say this cheddar is slightly sour or bitter in taste.
- Extra Sharp: Because this cheddar ripens from two to ten years, it has a strong ‘sharp’ flavor. The older the cheddar, the more crumbly and more difficult to slice it becomes.
Why is some cheddar cheese white and other cheddar cheese yellow? Some think a cheddar’s color indicates it’s flavor (sharpness). Color has no bearing on a cheddar’s flavor. All cheese typically is white or off-white; the orange or yellow coloration found in cheddar is the result of…well, I found a good article on that topic for you here.
Where did cheddar cheese come from? England – specifically, the Cheddar Gorge! Sounds ‘made up’ but that’s the truth. Farmers in Somerset, England began making a distinctive cheese in the 12th century. Cheddar cheese was stored in the caves of the Cheddar Gorge (shown above – photo Wikipedia), as the caves kept the cheese at just the right temperature and moisture level for aging. Pretty interesting! I learned that back then, cheddar’s flavor was tainted by an undesirable bacteria that developed because milk could not be refrigerated.
Then, in 1857, a guy named Joseph Harding standardized a process to suppress the growth of this undesirable bacteria. Mr. Harding’s process became known as “cheddaring.” In short, cheddaring gets rid of flavor harming bacteria and keeps the desirable bacteria that give cheddar its distinct flavor.
The ‘Big Cheese’ gets all the cheddar: History tells us in the year 1170, King Henry II of England (photo superstock.com) purchased 10,240 pounds of cheddar cheese at a farthing (a quarter of a penny) a pound. King Henry II declared cheddar to be the best cheese in all of Britain. Henry II’s son, Prince John, reigned from 1199 and 1216; he continued to buy cheddar for royal banquets. A few hundred years later during the time of King Charles I, parliamentary records show that all cheddar cheese was purchased before it was made, and in fact, was not available outside of the king’s court.
Nowadays, you don’t have to be royalty to enjoy cheddar – thankfully! Cheddar cheese is made and distributed around the globe. Some of the very best is made right here in Wisconsin and can be found at Figi’s! So enjoy your cheddar cheese – it’s fit for royalty! Shop all of our excellent cheese gifts here.
How long can I keep cheddar cheese in the refrigerator? Here’s a short, informative article about storing cheddar cheese to maximize its shelf life here.
Can I Freeze Cheddar Cheese? It depends on the cheese and who you ask. Learn more here.
Suggested Cheddar Pairings:
Wine: Red Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Reisling, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Food: Apples, grapes, cherries, pears, nuts, dark breads, whole grain crackers.
Beer: Ciders & Fruit Beers, Stout, Bock, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Porter.
I found a really nice resource for pairing cheese with food and beverages at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s website here. Simply select your cheese variety to match up with complimentary wine, spirits and food!
Is it safe to eat moldy cheddar cheese? It depends on a few factors such as block cheese vs. shredded and the size of the cheddar block. Learn more about this from the Mayo Clinic here.
Be sure to check out our Classic Aged Cheddar and our Mix ‘n Match Cheese & Sausage where you can put together your own cheese and sausage tray - including our delicious cheddar. Our 4-way Cheese Horn is a great way to enjoy cheddar with other cheese varieties for a unique, bold taste on sandwiches or crackers. Finally, if you would like a spreadable Wisconsin cheddar, try Figi’s Signature Kave Kure Cheese or Creamy Country Cheese Spreads and Logs! Our spreads will be available for purchase again in September.
I hope you enjoyed our exposé on cheddar. Our second installment will look at another popular cheese who’s identity we’ll keep secret until the appointed time. We’ll throw in a recipe or two as well. Thanks again for reading Gourmet Market. Don’t forget – you can stay connected with us on our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ pages.
Please use the comments field below to share any cheese pairing or cheese recipes ideas you have; we’d love to read them!