Perhaps the most popular cheese in the world, cheddar is a smooth, hard cheese with a pleasing flavor that ranges from mild to sharp. First made in the town of Cheddar Gorge, England in the 16th century, this type of cheese is produced through a unique process called "cheddaring."
During this process, cow's milk curd is cut into large strips and turned by hand so the last remnants of whey are drained away. The result is a dry, semi-firm cheese with a distinct, full-bodied flavor.
Cheddar is typically served with crackers, fruit or sandwiches. It's also a favorite ingredient in casseroles, baked goods, and of course, macaroni and cheese.
There are more than 250 varieties of cheddar cheese produced worldwide. They range from white to deep orange in color and mild to sharp in flavor.
When it comes to color, yellow and orange cheddars are created through the addition of carrot juice, marigold or annatto, a flavorless natural coloring. With no color additives, white cheddars retain their natural hue.
As for sharpness, it all comes down to age. Mild cheddar, generally aged for two to three months, has a pleasant milky aroma and chewy texture. But extra sharp cheddar, aged one year or longer, takes on a pointedly richer flavor and a drier, more crumbly texture.
Your supermarket may also carry low-fat, smoked or wine-soaked cheddars, as well as versions flavored with horseradish, spicy peppers or herbs.
Once original packaging has been opened or removed, wrap cheese tightly in plastic wrap and place in an airtight bag. Store in the lowest drawer of the refrigerator and use within two to four weeks. If your cheddar starts to mold before the "sell-by" date, simply use a knife to remove it. This is safe to do with any hard cheese (but not soft).
• Mild cheddars melt easily.
• Low-fat and sharp varieties melt better when shredded first.
• Cook dishes with cheddar over low heat. High temperatures cause the fats to separate and the cheese to toughen.
• For easier slicing and grating, chill cheddar in the freezer till firm.
• 1 lb. cheddar = 4 cups grated.
Cheddar is best served at room temperature. To bring out its full flavor and consistency, let cheddar sit for 30 minutes and serve alongside plain breads and crackers, apples and pears or wine. Mild cheddars pair well with Sauternes and Merlot, while sharper cheeses match up with bolder Pinot Noir and Cabernet. Cheddar also tastes great with ale or lager beer.
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