Rediscovering Cheddar

To the untrained eye, cheddar cheese seems to defy trends and time. In 2023, reports showed that cheddar did not relinquish its title as the nation’s favourite cheese type even by a long shot and, according to TasteAtlas, cheddar is also the world’s second most popular cheese behind the ubiquitous Mozzarella.

But what image do we associate with the word “cheddar”? For many, the first image that comes to mind will be supermarket-bought blocks or wax-wrapped wheels of cheddar, but there is a different world of cheddar cheesemaking that is redefining what we expect from this beloved variety. You don’t even have to look beyond the borders of our very nation, as the UK is home to dozens of incredible twists that reshape our thinking of this humble cheese.

So perch on your most comfortable seat with your favourite cheddar and some wine, as we explore what cheddar cheese is, where it is made today and look into the best varieties on the market that will help you rediscover what it means to experience cheddar cheese.

What is Cheddar Cheese?

Cheddar cheese is a medium to slightly hard-aged cheese which can be made from raw or pasteurised cow’s milk. Its texture can range from smooth to crumbly, and colour can vary from off-white to yellow, but the majority of cheddars have a signature sharp tang in their flavour profile.

According to the UK government’s protected food specification for West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, which is a more traditional strain, cheddar is defined by a “nutty and round flavour with a hint of sharpness”, as well as a “firm with slightly open texture” and “uniform consistent creamy yellow colour [...] free of cracks”. Getting into the molecular side of things, West Country Cheddar should have a minimum of 48% fat in dry matter, a moisture content no higher than 39%, and be aged for at least 9 months, which leads to a dry, medium-matured and fatty cheese.

However, the characteristics of cheddar are not set in stone, as there is no defining feature of cheddar that describes all cheddars and excludes all non-cheddars. Despite the lack of rules, cheddars have not strayed from their original experience, yet one can find unique variations made all over the world.

Where Does Cheddar Cheese From?

Unlike buffalo mozzarella, feta, parmesan and roquefort, cheddar cheese is not fully protected under a designation of origin. This means that only cheese made in the specific geographic region, with the local ingredients and traditional techniques from the region, can sell themselves as such. If a roquefort-style cheese is made outside of the protected natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon commune, it legally cannot call itself a roquefort!

I’ve previously written about why this is not such a bad thing, and cheddar is in fact the perfect example of this. The village of Cheddar, Somerset is where the cheese calls home, but in the far reaches of the Scottish Highlands, the Tobermory Distillery produces its own Isle of Mull cheddar. There truly is no place that cheddar can’t go.

That being said, West County Farmhouse Cheddar is a particular type that is protected, stating that it must be made in its historic home of Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Many varieties are produced in pastoral South West England, including Montgomery Cheddar, Westcombe Cheddar and the world’s best cheddar according to the 2021 World Cheese Awards, Pitchfork Cheddar. But look across the map and there are other varieties to be found.

Three Cheddars That Break the Mould

To highlight just how diverse and innovative the world of cheddar can be, here are three cheddars that introduce a novel twist on the flavour, production and location.

Quickes Cheddar

Crafted in Devon using a recipe passed down through generations, Quickes Cheddar maintains the diamond-sharp tang of cheddar while building a complex flavour profile around it that embodies the lush pastures of the county. The secret is its extra-long ageing process that matures the cheese over two entire years, but the result is a burst of sharpness, nuttiness, and a hint of grassy sweetness. It’s one of the finest examples of British cheesemaking you’ll hope to find.

Alpen Cheddar

Few cheeses adopt such experimental production techniques as Alpen Cheddar. Then again, few can boast such a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity in one bite. Made by cheesemaker Albert Kraus, the story of Alpen Cheddar actually starts off with Quicke’s Cheddar, as Kraus adds its curds to Alp Blossom cheese made from Bavarian cattle. The wheels are pressed into moulds and matured for 3 months, resulting in a pick-n-mix of sweet, nutty, meaty, fruity and herby flavours that bounce off one another. Alpen Cheddar sounds like a mad experiment akin to Cronenberg’s The Fly, but the results are much more rewarding.

Read more about the unique process of Alpen Cheddar in my blog from a few years ago.

Isle of Mull

The Isle of Mull is a pastoral island on the west coast of the Scottish Isles. Far away from Somerset, but it’s home to small fishing villages such as Tobermory, where Isle of Mull cheese is made. Legend has it that the wreck of a Spanish galleon lies somewhere at the bottom of Tobermory Bay and carries buried chests full of gold treasure. We like to think that this unfound treasure has inspired Isle of Mull, which has its own gleaming gold interior once you cut into the well-aged rind.

Bite into the crumbly texture and you’ll get a rich, hearty flavour with undertones of ale and whisky, reflecting the unique process in which this cheddar is made. The Friesian cows are sometimes fed the discarded fermented grain directly from the whisky distillery. This cycle results in a very distinctive taste that takes you right to the distillery in which this cheddar is made.


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AlpenCheddar - Rennet & Rind British Artisan Cheese
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Isle of Mull

Discover a World of Daring Cheddars with Rennet and Rind

For those keen to explore daring cheddar varieties, Rennet and Rind is a treasure trove for connoisseurs and novices alike, bringing the craftsmanship of British cheesemaking is available right on your doorstep. With a meticulously curated selection of award-winning artisan cheddars, Rennet and Rind is a gateway to supporting and celebrating local artisan cheesemakers. Embark on a journey to discover the UK's standout cheddars, each telling a unique story of tradition, innovation, and passion, all awaiting you at Rennet and Rind.

Perry James Wakeman

Head Cheesemonger of Rennet & Rind. Qualified MonS Affineur, World Cheese Awards Judge and Patron/Trainer of The Academy of Cheese.

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