There are well over 2000 types of cheeses in the world. France is famous for its creamy aromatic Brie, Switzerland for its nutty, buttery Emmenthal and Great Britain its regal blue-veined Stilton and delectable Cheddar.
Each cheese is unique and reflects the geography, traditions, culture and tastes of its environment. Countries of the northern hemisphere produce and consume more cheese that tropical and subtropical countries. This is attributable to the availability of pastures and climatic conditions.
Canada produces significant amounts of cheese particularly in Ontario and Quebec, although other provinces are increasing their output. While Quebec cheese makers excel in soft and cream cheeses, dairies in Ontario produce excellent hard cheeses among which cheddar is the most popular. Canadian cheddar has always been popular and was exported to Greta Britain and the U S A in the 19 and 20th centuries.
Today many countries including Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the U S A (Wisconsin, South Dakota, New York, Idaho, Minnesota, and Oregon) produce significant quantities of cheddar. Much of it processed for long shelf life and taste neutral at best.
Irish cheddar is fine as are some of the small American dairies cheddars. Small, artisan producers produce better tasting cheese. They pay attention to detail and to the quality of the milk they use.
Although cheddar originates in the town of Cheddar in England, Canadian cheddar possesses characteristics other cheddars lack.
Actually there exist many English cheeses that belong to the “cheddar” family; Cheshire, Double or Single Gloucester, Derby, Lancashire, Leicester, Dunlop (Scotland) and Caerphilly (Wales).
Canadian cheddars are smoother, have a creamier texture, and well known for their balance of flavour and sharpness that develops during aging. Like fine wine, classic cheddar needs just the right combination of quality ingredients, the skilled eye and palate of a master cheese maker, and the graceful passage of time. Cheddars vary in flavour depending on the length of aging and their origin. Some dairies age their cheddar for a few months, other up to six and even longer.
Aging is a process that cannot be rushed or easily simulated. There is no substitute for time. Quality conscious cheese makers never use additives, modified enzymes or artificial colouring. If mild cheddar lacks quality, it will never age well.
As cheddar slowly matures, like all other hard cheeses, it losers moisture and its texture becomes drier and more crumbly. Its naturally fresh and milky cheddar flavour is complemented by an increasing sharpness in taste, which is the result of high levels of acidity and salt. Sharpness becomes very noticeable at around 12 months (a k a old cheddar) and 18 months (a k a extra old cheddar) it overtakes the typical cheddar flavour.
The optimal aging period for cheddar varies between five and six tears. For most cheese enthusiasts three-year-old cheese is fine for general sue and five year old for special occasions. Regardless of age, however, the balance between flavour and sharpness is the ultimate goals of any cheese maker.
Classic cheddar is rich, moderately crumbly, with a clean pleasant aroma and piquant flavour; Cheddar freezes well, but should be thawed in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. It is also versatile. You can eat it at breakfast, use it cubed in salads, grated in sauces, even in baking. Cheddar flatters wine.
This excellent cheese is available mild, medium (six months), old (one year), extra old (three to five years) and can be paired with dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, rose or unoaked Chardonnay (mild); Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc sur lie (medium); Merlot, Valpolicella (old cheddar) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cotes du Rhone, Syrah, Amarone, Old vines Shiraz (Extra old)
Fine Canadian cheddar producers: Balderson, Black River Cheese Co, Maple Dale Cheese, Eldroado Cheese Ltd, Pine River Cheese and Butter Corporation, Kaseman’s Curds and Whey, Grande Cheese, National Cheese, Black Diamond (a division of Parmalat), Ontario; Armstrong Cheese, The Village Cheese B.C;, Delapointe, Agropur, Lactel, Fromagerie La Ferme au Village Quebec: Framers Dairy N S: Armstrong Cheese, Saskatchewan; Armstrong Cheese, Alberta
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu