The history of cheddar cheese, an English delicacy that has become one of the most popular varieties in the world thanks to its strong flavor and its characteristic deep yellow color
Never like the last few years cheddar cheese has become a global product, distributed in more and more countries and ubiquitous in the fridge counter. Although, as often happens, the varieties sold outside the country of origin often leave something to be desired in terms of quality and are mostly packaged in practical bags, the real English cheddar has a very different taste and texture and above all it is a very respectable cheese. Let's go then to analyze what are the characteristics that distinguish a DOP cheddar, as well as to retrace the milestones in its history, from the origin to the first industrial production, up to its diffusion in the rest of the world.
The story of the yellow English cheese born by chance
It is said that cheddar, like other famous cheeses, is born of a happy accident. The episode dates back to 1100 when the milkmaid of an English village forgot, for an entire day, to go and get a bucket of milk left in a cave, a very common practice at the time to preserve and keep food cool. Thanks to this forgetfulness what he found the next day was hardened milk, the first cheddar in history. Officially this hard cheese is born in a village called Cheddar, in Somerset in the south west of England, where it was probably produced for the first time in the 12th century. This area is characterized by the high presence of caves, a humid environment and the ideal constant temperature, then as today, for the aging of the cheese.
At the time the cheddar came handmade and handcrafted by local farmers, and was intended for farms or for sale to neighboring producers. The turning point in the history of this cheese was the birth of the first dairy of the area, by Joseph Harding, nineteenth-century Somerset dairyman nicknamed the father of cheddar cheese. Thanks to its modern production techniques, it would have seen the light of what can be considered in all respects the first real cheddar in history. Thanks to him and his family, the cheese would soon have made its triumphant appearance in other countries, from Scotland to North America to Australia and New Zealand.
Over the years, the production process continued to improve and focus on efficiency, durability and appearance. In this period also the color of the cheese underwent various variations, depending on the period of the year or on the grazing habits of the cows. To make it more uniform and more brilliant, the producers began to add them annatto seeds with a dark red color and used as a natural dye since the Aztecs.
What distinguishes the classic cheddar recipe
Let's start by saying that the real cheddar should have an intense flavor, at times pungent and earthy, with a sweet note due to the annatto seeds, and that the consistency should be slightly friable. According to the Cheddar Presidium, created by the Slow Food movement, only three varieties of cheddar fall under the DOP certification, as they are made using traditional methods.
The real cheddar is in fact to be considered only that made by hand with raw milk of excellent quality e animal rennet. It is also essential that after the phase of the production process dictates cheddaring, that is the moment in which the curd is kneaded, cut into cubes and turned, followed by a phase of maturation inside a cloth, for a period not exceeding 24 months.
In short, forget the artificial cheddar, vacuum-packed and matured in plastic that you find in supermarkets, the real cheddar is the outside that awaits you, for a tasting not to be forgotten.