Cheddar is one of the most famous cheeses in the world, but is also one of the cheeses most often produced using large scale, industrial methods .
Made traditionally in the county of Somerset in South West England, barely 5% of the 400 producers who made traditional Cheddar remain in business. Today, only three cheese makers are members of the Artisanal Somerset Cheddar Presidia , the Montgomery family, Westcombe Dairy and the Trethowan Brothers.
To begin cheesemaking (normally a three day process), starters are added to fresh milk, along with rennet – this creates curds. Traditional cheddar relies on the use of these starters (strains of bacteria known as ‘pint starters’). These are based on traditional local microflora, which help to provide broad, round flavors – in some cases, the strains of bacteria used are hundreds of years old.
The next stage is the cutting of the curds into small crumbly pieces and then the process that gives the cheese its name – cheddaring – begins.
Cheddaring is what gives cheddar its unique texture . Cheddaring takes the curds and changes the texture from crumbly individual pieces to pliable, elastic sheets , with a texture similar to pizza dough. The curds are worked into compacted blocks, stacked high and turned several times over a two-hour period. The head cheesemaker keeps an eye on the acidity of the curd to decide when to move on to the next step, as the level of acidity will determine the texture of the cheese.
The next stage is the mellowing process, mixing the salt and cooling the cheese curds. Sheets of curd (immediately after they have been through the cheddaring process) are torn into irregular sized pieces, using a peg mill. The salt is then mixed in, traditionally using pitchforks. To achieve that hard cheese texture and to create the characteristic cheddar rind, the cheese is pressed into molds and pressed overnight twice, with a “smoother” being added by hand between presses.
The last step is cloth binding with lard soaked muslin and pressing continues again for another couple of hours. The cloth allows moisture to leave, resulting in a concentrated flavor and a firm texture. The cheeses are then transferred to the maturing rooms for between 11 and 18 months.
During the ageing process, the cheese’s natural rind remains intact and is never shrink-wrapped or treated in any way. Artisan Somerset Cheddar has a rich, brownish gray rind and an intensely hay-yellow center. Traditional method Cheddar is an incredibly versatile cheese, suitable for many uses, whether eaten on its own or in a variety of cooked dishes.
The three Presidium producers make no more than ten or twenty wheels (or truckles) a day. The cheddar making process requires three days of work and then between 10 and 18 months of maturing . The milk used is untreated (unpasteurised or also known as ‘raw’) and comes from the farms where their dairys are situated. This means that the milk starts the process to becoming cheese within 24 hrs of milking. All the starter cultures used are strictly local .
The Presidium was created to introduce consumers to hand-crafted cheddar , made using traditional methods from fresh, local raw milk. We participate in local and international events: the taste of true artisanal Cheddar nearly always comes as a great surprise to the public! We aim to spread the knowledge of traditional agricultural techniques and to promote sustainable agriculture.
Montgomery Cheddar , Manor Farm, North Cadbury, Somerset, BA22 7 DW, firstname.lastname@example.org
Westcombe Dairy , Evercreech, Somerset, BA4 6ER, Tel. +44(0) 1749 830312, email@example.com
Pitchfork Cheddar , Trethowan Brothers, The Dairy, Cowslip Lane, Hewish, Somerset, BS24 6AH, Tel. +44(0)1934 835984, firstname.lastname@example.org