Indisputably, England's most famous cheese, cheddar is perhaps the most well-known cheese in the western world and certainly Australia's most popular cheese.
Cheddaring began in the village of Cheddar in Somerset during the 12th Century. With innovation and creative flair, the early settlers improvised to develop equipment to make Australia's first cheddars.
Cheddaring is the name of a particular process used to make traditional cheddar cheese. This process presses more whey out of the cheese by stacking blocks of curd on top of each other as if building a wall. The blocks knit together, and then are re-stacked until the cheese becomes quite acidified and stringy in texture. It is then cut into chips (milled), salted and pressed into hoops.
Australian cheesemakers were quick to learn from the technology of England. So much so, Australian cheddar production was regarded as some of the best in the world. At the turn of the 20th Century, Australian cheddar was winning prizes at international dairy shows.
The many flavour variations of cheddar reflect different methods of making the cheese and the length of its maturation. An aged cheddar, for example, crumbles in the mouth and has a long lingering flavour whereas a mild cheddar slices well for sandwich making.
- Mild cheddar - matures for one to three months.
- Semi-matured - matures for three to six months.
- Matured or tasty - matures for six to 12 months.
- Vintage - matures for 12 to 24 months.
The rind of cheddar
Traditionally all Cheddar was made in wheels of varying sizes and wrapped in cloth which allows the cheese to breathe and protects the rind. As the cheese ages, it develops different flavour and textural components as well as a natural rind.
This cheese matures in a vacuum sealed bag which prevents moisture loss and rind development. It also develops a different flavour profile to cloth wrapped cheddar.
While cheddar is commonly rindless and unwaxed, the wax of waxed cheddar prevents surface damage and gives the cheese a distinctive appearance. It also prevents the cheese from drying out.
Selection and storage
- Select if free from dryness or cracks on the surface.
- Store wrapped loosely in plastic wrap.
- Note the use-by date. Shelf life will vary depending on the age of the cheese when purchased.
- Freezing, causing the cheese to dry and crumble, is not recommended unless grated for cooking.
- Serve at room temperature for the best flavour.
- Accompany with muscatels or with pickled onions and chutney as part of a Ploughman's Lunch.
- Shave over soups and roasted vegetables.
- Sprinkle over sweet potatoes.
- Grill on toast.
- Stir into soft polenta.
- Add to garlic bread for a cheesy touch.
For more recipes with cheddar cheeses, visit The Dairy Kitchen.
Colby-style or stirred curd
The process begins as cheddar, but the curds are prevented from knitting together (cheddaring). The curds may be washed with water (colby) or just stirred (stirred curd).
The stirred curd style of cheddar-making creates an open texture instead of the close texture through traditional cheddaring. The stirred curd is then salted and pressed into hoops. At this stage, as much moisture as possible is removed, usually overnight, by mechanical pressing.
Left to dry, the cheese is wrapped in cloth or packed in a vacuum-sealed bag, then stored in temperature controlled rooms to mature.
Created by blending one or more cheddars or other types of cheeses. Club cheddar often contains peppercorns, herbs or sun-dried tomatoes to enhance its flavour and appearance.
A mild, smooth cheese, processed cheddar is a blend of cheddar pasteurised at very high temperatures to prevent further ripening and give it an extended shelf life. Available as a block, sliced, in wedges or as a spread, it is a great favourite with children.
English Style Cheeses
Other than cheddar, England had a variety of cheeses that were unique to a specific region or county. Each had unique characteristics that set them apart from the cheese from another area. It is not surprising that the early cheeses made in Australia were of English origin. Cheshire is mentioned as one of the early cheeses made. Today, English-style cheeses are made in small quantities.
Cheshire is considered England's oldest cheese. It takes its name from the village of Chester on the River Dee. Cheshire is made in small quantities in Australia.
Cheshire is made in a similar way to cheddar though cheshire is 'textured' not cheddared. In this process, the curd is broken up at regular intervals while being continuously heated. Taking several hours, 'texturing' results in the cheese's unique flaky texture. The cheese is then matured for a minimum of two months. Almost white in colour, cheshire has a moderately firm body with a crumbly slightly granular texture. It is usually produced in a round wheel, either in cloth or waxed.
With a high acid level, cheshire has a sharp yet fresh flavour leaving a subtle tingle on the palate.
Creamy and Tasty Lancashire
Originally confused with cheshire, lancashire the cheese developed its own regional differences in the 18th Century.
The cheese is produced by combining the curd made on three different days. As the curds ripened at different times within the cheese, a mottled texture and three-dimensional flavour results. As the cheese is only lightly pressed, the texture is light and crumbly. Lancashire is usually made in large, round wheels that are either waxed or wrapped in cloth.
Creamy lancashire is a young lancashire. It is moist and crumbly with an excellent balance of acidity. As it matures, the high acidity of the cheese intensifies its flavour making it quite robust and full. It is then known as tasty lancashire.
Selection and storage
- Choose if free from dryness and cracks.
- Store with plastic wrap on cut face to prevent drying out.
- Shelf life varies depending on the age and care of the cheese when purchased.
- Freezing is not recommended unless grated.
Serving English-style cheeses
- Serve at room temperature for best flavour.
- Use as a table cheese.
- Melt over vegetables - wonderful with potatoes!
- An ideal cheese for the cheeseboard.
- May be used as per cheddar.
Made in Gloucestershire from the 16th Century, it has been replaced by double gloucester.
Single gloucester is made with a combination of skimmed and full cream milk.
Single gloucester is a mild cheese with a subtle sweetness which balances its acidity. It should be eaten young.
Made primarily in Somerset, this cheese resembles a cheddar with a little added annatto colouring.
Double gloucester is made with full cream milk. It has a slightly open, flaky texture and a pale orange colour from the added annatto.
Double gloucester is rich and buttery with a mellow, nutty tang.
Red leicester evolved from cheshire cheese. Its distinctive red colour originally identified it with the region of leicester. The colour is achieved through the addition of annatto, a natural vegetable colouring. Red Leicester is made in small quantities in Australia.
To make red leicester, the milk is left in the vat with only starter culture for about 30 minutes at the beginning of the cheesemaking process. During this time, the natural food dye, annatto, is added. Annatto gives red leicester its characteristic deep rich red-orange colour.
Subtle and sweet, red leicester improves with age. Annatto is a natural vegetable extract taken from the seeds of a South American bush. It is used to colour the cheese and does not affect the flavour characteristics. At its best between six and nine months after making, the cheese has a firm body and close flaky texture.