What Makes Cheddar Cheese So Unique?
Imagine life without cheddar cheese. What did you say? Yes, life without cheddar cheese. We always have a block of cheddar cheese in the fridge ready to be shredded or just cut up and eaten fresh. Memories of scrabbled eggs, melted grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade macaroni cheese come flooding back to my mind. Life without cheese just can’t be so on our farm.
Cheddar cheese can be confusing. There is white, yellow, orange and some that are labeled mild, sharp and extra sharp. Cheddar cheese seems to be the only cheese with that label. What is the story with that?
How Cheddar Cheese Gets Made
Cheddar cheese is one of the most popular cheeses in the United States. It’s made from cow’s milk. The cheddaring process starts out like most other cheeses. Milk is cultured (meaning bacteria is added to acidify the milk). After that rennet is added and milk forms curds. The curds form and then the watery whey is drained out to leave behind more concentrated curds. The concentrated curds are then heated to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit to release more whey and start melting together. This is the beginning of cheese.
At this point in the process the cheddar continues to form making big slabs that are piled together and flipped many times. The flipping helps the cheddar to get denser and release more whey. Towards the end of the process the curds are passed through a mill to make small curds. Then they are pressed into molds to drain and further age the cheese.
White, Yellow or Orange?
Historically many cheddars in New England are undyed and left white. Some producers dye their cheese to distinguish their cheese from competitors.
What is sharp?
Cheddar cheese is one of those unique cheeses that can be called sharp and extra sharp. Sharp is the term that indicates how cheddar changes in flavor and texture as it continues to age.
- Mild = 2 to 3 months old
- Sharp = 6 to 9 months old
- Extra-Sharp = 1 to 2 years old
As cheddar ages, it goes from mild (young in age) to tangier with a more complex and deep flavor. The texture of cheddar goes from creamy to developing a hard, salt-like crystal called calcium lactate.
If you really want to know the difference between mild and extra-sharp, take the two and taste test them side by side. You’ll taste and feel the difference.