By Tatiana Pietrzak
Cheddar cheese is the second most popular cheese in the US, behind Mozzarella. Originally it came from the town of Cheddar in Somerset County in South West England. Cheesemakers made this cheese since at least the 12th century. From the Cantel region of France, Romans may have brought this recipe to Britain. Myth has it though that a milkmaid left a pail of milk in the caverns overnight, and by the morning it had turned solid.
The town of Cheddar was known for its most beautiful gorge. Early 16th century travelers visited the town for this reason. Hence, they tasted the local cheese at inns and taverns. Having tried its marvelous taste, the tourists brought it home. So, the cheese became more well-known in other parts of the country.
English monarchs developed a taste for it. King Henry II purchased 10,240 lbs. of it in 1170. His son King John carried on the tradition by purchasing large amounts for banquets. Then Queen Victory received half a ton colossal wheel as a wedding gift in 1840.
On The Move
British colonists moved to America and brought their cheesemaking recipes along. Therefore, by 1790 they were exporting cheddar back to Britain. Eventually the cheese migrated throughout the world in the 19th century. 1851 saw the world’s first cheese factory in upstate New York which specialized in cheddar.
Innovations And More Movement
The 19th century also had the fortune of Joseph Harding, dubbed “the father of Cheddar Cheese.” He standardized cheddar cheese making with new innovations and scientific principles. These became known as the “Joseph Harding method.” Harding and his wife introduced the new cheese into Scotland and North America. Afterwards, his sons Henry and William introduced the cheese to Australia and New Zealand. Scott of the Antarctic took 3500 lbs. of the cheese made in Cheddar on his famous expedition in 1901.
The Loss Of Traditional Farms
WW II came along and most milk was made into “Government Cheddar” for war rationings. Before WW I there were 3,500 cheesemakers. Only 100 were left after WW II. Even though the US Department of Agriculture declares Cheddar cheese to be the most popular in the world, very few are made in the classical way or even near the town of Cheddar.
Classical Cheddar tends to have a sharp, pungent flavor and is often slightly earthy. If aged more than six months, it forms crystals from calcium lactate. It is often orange in color from annatto seeds of the achiote tree grown in Mexico, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Occasionally beet juice is used for color.
There was no PDO (protected designation of origin) for Cheddar until 2007. But only “West County Farmhouse Cheddar” can claim this label. Traditional methods are used. Cheesemakers age the Cheddar in Cheddar Gorge’s caves – Wookey Hole. These provide ideal humidity and a steady temperature for maturing cheese.
Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup
¼ lb. smoked bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 medium onion, small dice
½ cup celery stalks, diced
½ cup carrots, diced
4 Tbls. butter
3 Tbls. all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
1 lb. sharp white cheddar, grated
1 Tbls. Tabasco sauce
1Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
½ cup Canadian lager beer or any lager-style beer, room temperature
Salt and pepper, TT
Chopped scallions or chives for garnish
- In a large stock pot, add bacon and cook for 5-6 minutes on medium heat.
- Add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook till onions are translucent and bacon is crisp.
- Sprinkle flour over mixture. Stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes
- Stir in milk and stock, a little at a time, blending well so no lumps.
- Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 10 -15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and whisk in cheddar, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and beer. For a smoother soup, use an immersion blender.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Place in bowls and garnish with scallions or chives.