Know Your Cheddar Better
Cheddar might be what comes to mind when you hear “cheese.” And whether you prefer it white or orange, you should know there’s more to it than meets the eye.
This hard cheese is one of the most popular on the planet, and its flavors range from mild and buttery (when aged a couple months) to sharp and biting (when aged for years). Orange varieties get their color from adding dye derived from the annatto seed, a common practice in the Midwest, while paler versions simply indicate no such natural color was added.
Today’s artisanal cheddars can be purchased in their cloth or wax rinds—and, increasingly, wrapped in plastic at the grocery store just like their mass-produced cousins. When you take it home and shred it into broccoli soup, however, consider cheddar’s humble origins in the Middle Ages. You’re eating something King Henry II ordered.
That’s right. Cheddar originated in an English village of the same name thanks to local caves that had just the right temperature and moisture to produce hard cheese. While historians dispute exactly who is responsible for figuring out how to make it, a royal record of cheddar’s desirability comes courtesy of King Henry II, who in the 12th century ordered 4.5 tons of the stuff. That’s about equal to the weight of three pick-up trucks!
About seven centuries later, cheddar grew in popularity thanks to Joseph Harding of England, who developed innovative and hygienic methods that made it easier to produce. He’s known as the Father of Cheddar Cheese and taught his methods to British and U.S. cheesemakers—just in time for it to proliferate in the industrial age.