February 4, 2008
You like Cheddar, right? Sure, everybody likes Cheddar! Whether it's cut from a shrink-wrapped block, peeled out of a wax sheath, or sliced from a bandage-wrapped truckle... wait a minute. What's that dirty rag doing on my cheese?
Fear not, my friend, the traditional trappings of Cheddar. Unlike wax or plastic, a layer of bandage around the rind allows the cheese to breathe and to lose moisture as it ages. Matured for at least ten months, bandage-wrapped Cheddar gains a crumbly texture and develops an astonishing range of flavors.
Of course, what's inside counts, as well. Traditional Cheddar is made with unpasteurized milk and animal-derived rennet. It perfectly demonstrates why raw milk cheese has a dedicated following: the subtle characteristics of the milk are amplified in the finished cheese. Take the English farmhouse classics, Keen's and Montgomery's Cheddars. Though they are created by the same process,* Keen's exhibits a vegetal, horseradish-like bite and gingery spiciness, while Montgomery's has a mellow meatiness and suggestion of sweetness. Don't be alarmed to by a faintly musty scent or a few streaks of blue-green mold near the surface-- they are only evidence of a proper upbringing.
American examples, too, elicit a greater vocabulary than "mild" and "sharp." Hailing from California, Fiscalini Farmstead's Bandage Wrapped Cheddar is redolent of butter and nuts. The award-winning Cabot Clothbound Cheddar fills your mouth with sweet richness, and lingers just a moment too short-- must have another taste! And though I haven't had the pleasure of trying it myself, I hear that Bleu Mont Dairy offers a full-flavored, bandage-wrapped specimen in Wisconsin.
Before we part ways in search of fine Cheddar, let me share some happy news: Grafton Village Cheese, a venerable producer of Vermont Cheddar, has its own cloth-wrapped version waiting patiently in the aging cellars of Jasper Hill Farm. I have a feeling that the Cave-Aged Cheddar will reveal the distinct richness of Jersey milk, which Grafton uses in all of its Cheddars.
Do you know of other bandage-wrapped Cheddars produced in the US? Post a comment to share your experiences!
*Click through the cheddar-making process (no bandage-wrapping)-- Grafton Village Cheese
Beautiful photos of making and aging famous English Cheddars-- Neal's Yard Dairy
Account of a visit to some of England's great cheese producers-- Artisanal Cheese Journal