It’s not always easy to identify an imposter, but when it comes to cheese it’s important to understand the differences between the artisanally produced and industrially produced versions. We spoke to producers from Montgomery Cheddar, Westcombe Dairy and Moorehayes Farm from the Slow Food Artisanal Somerset Cheddar Presidium about what may be the most imitated cheese throughout the world: Cheddar.
Round and cloth wrapped vs. square
Traditional artisanal wrapped cheddar is always round, with layers of lard and muslin cloth, which aids the cheese in absorbing the flavors of the environment. Turned by hand, it is matured for at least a year, sometimes up to 18 months – only then can it be called aged Cheddar. The industrially produced variety, on the other hand, matures, on average, for just 6 months.
Vegetable vs. animal rennet
According to Richard Calver (Artisanal Somerset Cheddar Presidium), sometimes in the production of Cheddar using vegetable rennet imparts a certain bitterness, and so to mask this unwanted visitor, other ingredients are added, such as sugar. The Artisan Somerset Cheddar Presidium uses exclusively animal rennet.
Artisanal cheddar contains no artificial additives or colorings, so if a cheese is overly yellow, don’t buy it. Having said that, the color can vary depending on the individual conditions surrounding the raising of the animal.
Cheeses of the same type should have different flavors –one might be more acidic, one sweeter, one grassier – depending on the pastures on which they were fed. They should not taste the same. As Tom Calver (Artisanal Somerset Cheddar Presidium) explained, “We aim to show off the differences in cheeses.”
Producing raw milk cheeses requires a great deal of understanding about the products. On an industrial scale, it is incredibly difficult to keep track of the origins of milk; at Westcombe Dairy however, they know their cows. As a result, on an industrial level, milk is pasteurized, standardized and homogenized to ensure the eradication of harmful bacteria.
Quality vs. quantity
Rather than produce lots of a poor quality cheese, many small-scale producers instead opt for producing small quantities of cheeses of fantastic quality. Producing quality cheese is labor-intensive and there are no shortcuts; this is why is might not be the cheapest on the market.