I love cheese and cheddar cheese.  Apparently so does everyone else.  Cheddar cheese accounts for 50% of cheese consumption in the UK and is the second most popular cheese in the US behind Mozzarella cheese.

Since it’s my favorite cheese I got curious as to where it originated and just what makes it sharp… as compared to medium or mild.  And why is some cheddar cheese white and some yellow?

It turns out that cheddar cheese originated back in England, in a town called Cheddar.  Makes sense.  It’s a cow’s milk cheese that begins the process like other cheeses but then undergoes a “cheddaring process.”  The curds are formed into slabs, piled together and repeatedly flipped to make them denser.  Then they are passed through a mill to make them into curds again and finally pressed into molds to drain and age.

It’s the age of the cheddar that determines if it’s mild, medium, sharp or extra sharp.  Mild cheddar is aged about 3 months, sharp is aged six to nine months and extra sharp… the best variety… is aged one and a half to two years.  As it ages, the flavors get richer and more complex. 

Now we know whey the sharp cheeses are more expensive.

As for the color, cheddar cheese is naturally white.  I once thought it was a special blend because it was usually the extra or extra-extra sharp cheddars I’d see available as white.  It isn’t.  It just means that it hasn’t been dyed.  As cheddar cheeses began to be manufactured in places outside of Cheddar England they were often dyed with anatto to distinguish them.  It became a consumer preference to see the cheddar cheese yellow so it is now the predominant color.

A word to the wise though.  You might be better off going with the white cheddar cheese when you can find it.  While anatto is a natural food coloring, not all food colorings are and some contain ingredients our bodies would be better off without!  If not check the label to see what was used to dye it if you can.

Now that you’re probably craving some cheddar cheese (I know I am), try our Chicken Quesadilla with Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheese Recipe.