Artisan Somerset Cheddar
Cheddar is one of the most famous cheeses in the world but also one of the cheeses most often produced industrially. Just 5% of the 400 producers who made Cheddar in the cheese's home territory-the county of Somerset in southwest England-a half-century ago remain in business.
The centralization of cheesemaking in the years following World War II had significant effects on traditional Cheddar production in Britain. First, official requirements for cheese to have specific moisture content (to enhance keeping properties) led to the elimination of moister types. Secondly, the number of farms that resumed production after the war was greatly reduced. The introduction of rindless block cheeses and frequent use of pasteurized milk further reduced the unique characteristics of Cheddar made in southwest England. But an artisan, handmade versions still exist, made in the rich dairy pastures surrounding the town of Cheddar in Somerset, where a few farmers continue to produce the region’s traditional cheese.
The cheese curd is created using old strains of bacteria (known as ‘pint starters’; these are based on traditional local microflora) and calf rennet, both of which help to provide broad, round flavors. The curds are cut until they’re about the size of a grain of rice, then they are poured onto a draining table where the real work begins. The curds are ‘cheddared’ by being formed into blocks, which are stacked and turned by hand for an hour. This changes the texture from crumbly lumps to pliable, elastic slabs and gives the finished cheese its unique texture. Before being transferred to the aging room, the slabs are bandaged with lard-soaked muslin. During the aging process, the cheese’s natural crust remains intact and is never shrink-wrapped or treated in any way to aid moisture retention. A single form of Presidium Cheddar weighs 50 to 60 pounds, and is aged for at least 11 months, though it can be aged up to two years.
Artisan Somerset Cheddar has a richly moldy brownish gray rind and an intensely hay-yellow curd. The texture is firm yet buttery, and the curd has flavors of caramelized milk, hazelnut, and bitter herbs.
All three Presidium members make only ten to twenty cheeses a day and-from start to finish-each form takes three days to make. Presidium members only use milk produced on their farms and they use it, untreated, within a day of milking and solely local ‘pint starters’ are used to culture the milk. The Presidium has been created with the goal of educating consumers about a different type of Cheddar made from fresh local raw milk and crafted by hand. This Presidium will also promote taste education, participate in local and international gourmet events (where the presence of an ‘artisan’ Cheddar often raises eyebrows), spread the understanding of traditional British farming techniques, and adopt sustainable cheesemaking and agricultural techniques.
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