February 4, 2008

Mummy Dearest

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

1 comment:

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