Saturday, July 31, 2010

From Cave to Table - A Brief History Of Cheddar Cheese

Many people around the world eat Cheddar cheese on a daily basis and yet, have no idea where it comes from. Part of its popularity comes from the taste, which can range from mild in younger cheeses, to sharp and full-bodied Cheddars which have been aged for a longer period of time. The story of one of the world’s most famous cheeses is an interesting one and there is a lot of history and innovation that goes into crafting each round.

Although Cheddar is now being made in many countries around the world, its origins lie in Somerset, England. Many people believe that it was the village of Cheddar and the caves around this village that gave the cheese its name. Early records show that the British Royal Family was ordering cheese from this area as early as 1170.

There were a number of reasons why this area was such a natural birthplace for Cheddar. The first is that the area was famous for its rich pastures and the high quality of the milk that was produced there. The second is that the area also boasted the Cheddar caves which had an air temperature that kept milk at the perfect temperature to change it into cheese.

Legend has it that the discovery of Cheddar cheese was accidental. A dairy girl decided to keep a bucket of milk in the caves but did not collect it immediately. By the time she had remembered that it was there and had returned to pick it up the natural bacteria had turned the milk into something new and delicious. Whatever the origin, it is known that King Henry II purchased 10,000 pounds of the cheese.

It is no wonder that Cheddar would have been born in this area. The village of Cheddar is located in the Somerset region of England. It has been inhabited ever since the Roman and Saxon times and was recognized as an important part of commerce in these cultures. The temperate climate has created very rich pastures for sheep to graze on and the milk that is produced is very rich in high in quality. It is not a surprise that this area has been known for both farming and cheese production throughout history.

The caves that were part of the Cheddar origin are located in a gorge which is located near the village. That gorge is the largest in England. The temperature in the caves is approximately seven degrees which was cool enough to allow the cheese to form without spoiling. The caves are still used by some traditionalists to store the curd blocks but this is much rarer than it used to be now that there are modern ways of controlling temperature and humidity. The area is also home to the Cheddar Yeo, Britain’s largest underground river. When visiting the village it is also possible to see high limestone cliffs that are the highest inland cliffs in Britain.

The area is still a popular tourist attraction and it does not all have to do with cheese production. The area is an important ecological and historical attraction. The discovery of Cheddar Man, a 9,000 year old skeleton has made the area an important archaeological attraction as well. The skeleton is the oldest complete skeleton that has been unearthed in Britain to date. Both the village and the Cheddar caves are frequented by many visitors throughout the year.

The production of Cheddar is a lengthy one that involves more effort on the part of the cheese makers than other cheeses do. The process of cheddaring, an essential part of creating Cheddar cheese, involves kneading the curds with salt, creating a slab of the curds by pressing them, and then stacking them. After the stack was pressed to remove the whey (the watery part that remains after the milk has turned into curds), it had to be turned repeatedly for it to age properly.

As it ages, it becomes sharper and more flavorful. The color is naturally a creamy yellowish-white but it is often tinted with coloring agents. These can include carrot juice or Annatto, a natural substance extracted from certain trees. Young cheddar may only age 3-6 months, while older Cheddars may age for several years. Cheddars are wrapped in cloth and may be flavored with certain ingredients in order to give the cheese a unique taste and color. Another traditional covering for the curd slabs was black wax.

Whether you prefer milder Cheddar or something with a little more bite to it, Golden Age Cheese can supply you with cheese that has the right balance of taste and texture.

-Written by Lisa Longworth

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Cheese Recipe Idea: Fresh Mozzarella Pinwheel Salad

Looking for a summer salad idea? Look no further! Try the Fresh Mozzarella pinwheel salad. This is a wonderful spin on a summer salad that is light, quick and tasty! To make this salad you will need the following ingredients:

• ¼ Lb. fresh spinach
• 8 oz fresh stretched Mozzarella cheese
• ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
• ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
• 4 slices prosciutto, sliced very thin
• 2 oz roasted, peeled, red bell peppers sliced lengthwise into trips
• 2 cups mixed salad greens
• 2 fresh tomatoes sliced
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Steam the spinach for two minutes until limp. Remove the leaves carefully so they stay intact and place them on a paper towel.
2. Place fresh mozzarella between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll out into a rectangle about 8 by 6 inches and ½ think. You may also try to cut the mozzarella if you purchased a log of mozzarella into this shape.
3. Sprinkle the mozzarella with oregano and garlic powder.
4. Layer prosciutto to the edges of the mozzarella rectangle. Carefully place two layers of the spinach leaves on top of the prosciutto to cover. Position red pepper strips lengthwise in rows about 1 inch apart on top of the spinach.
5. Use plastic wrap to help roll up the layered mozzarella from the long side. Wrap this roll tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours to help firm the mozzarella.
6. When ready to serve, put salad greens with sliced tomato in bowl. Cut up mozzarella log into rounds and serve on top of the salad. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Makes 4 Servings.

-Written by Julia Sirianni

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What is the Difference Between White and Orange Cheddar Cheese?

When many people think of Cheddar cheese, they see before them beautiful gleaming blocks of orange cheese. They may think that this is the natural color of the cheese and that if Cheddar is not colored that the taste or the texture will be completely different. In fact, both colored and uncolored Cheddar have the same basic ingredients and it is only the presence or lack of a coloring agent that will make a difference between the two types of Cheddars.

Unlike many cheeses, the milk for Cheddar must come from cows for it to be proper Cheddar cheese. In many places the milk has traditionally been unpasteurized but now, in many cases, pasteurized milk is now used. This is mixed with rennet which curdles the cheese and causes the curds to form. These are then handled through a process called Cheddaring and the cheese is then aged until the proper age and texture has been reached.

When a cheese maker wants to produce colored Cheddar, they add specific ingredients to the milk in order to give it the characteristic orange hue. There are a few different ingredients that can be used to give it this characteristic orange color that has become familiar to so many consumers. The original colorings that were used were made of carrot juice or another substance known as annatto.

Annatto is extracted from the pulp surrounding the seeds of the Achiote tree which grows in the tropics. This extract can add a certain flavor of its own but is most commonly used as a food coloring. The reddish pulp mixes with the rich cream and turns it a beautiful orange hue. Annatto is also used in the production of several other cheeses including Red Leicester and some types of Brie. Modern Cheddar may not be colored with straight annatto. It may often be colored with a mixture of annatto and paprika oil.

Other than the presence of coloring agents, there is no difference between Cheddar that is orange and Cheddar that is uncolored. There have been some studies performed that show consumers prefer orange Cheddar but it is largely a personal choice rather than one that is driven by flavor. The flavor of Cheddar cheese is affected more by the length of time that it is aged rather than by the coloring that has been added to it.

Joseph Harding, who is commonly regarded as the father of Cheddar cheese for his modern production methods, was actually the first person to introduce the idea of colored Cheddar. He claimed that the people of London preferred food that was artificially colored and suggested doing so with Cheddar in order to make it more marketable. His methods of cheese making first caught on in England but also became popular in Scotland and North America. This is one reason why colored cheddar is found in Canada and the United States as well as in Britain.

If you want to make sure that Cheddar has been properly colored, look for very even coloring throughout the brick. This means that during the process of cutting, stacking and aging the curds that the coloring has been worked in consistently throughout the cheese. Uncolored cheddar should be a yellow color that can range from creamy to deep yellow.

-Written by Lisa Longworth

Monday, July 12, 2010

What are Cheese Curds?

When we are sampling our cheese products at fairs, craft shows, farmer's markets, etc we often get the question "What is a Cheese Curd?". So we thought we'd take time and do a blog post explaining what Cheese Curds are.

First of all it is important to note that Cheese Curds are in the Cheddar cheese family. Curds aren't your typical Cheddar Cheese that most people are familiar with like mild cheddar (slightly aged) and sharp Cheddars (aged longer), they are actually fresh (no longer than 7 days in age). Now we will get to some more specific questions about cheese curds.

How are cheese curds considered Cheddar?

In short a cheese curd is considered Cheddar because it is the first stage of the cheddar making process. Cheese curds are taken directly from the vat and pressed into wheels or blocks. Pressing the curds will drain out the whey and allow for the cheese to form back into one solid piece. This solid piece of cheese is then set aside to age into Cheddars like Mild, Sharp, and Extra Sharp (the longer it's aged the sharper the cheese will be). You can read more details about this process on our blog post From Cheese Curds to Cheddar Blocks.

What are the nutritional values for cheese curds?

In 4 ounces of cheese curds there are roughly: 115 calories, 9 grams of fat (5 grams saturated), 31 milligrams of cholesterol, 1 carbohydrate, 150 milligrams of sodium, and 7 grams of protein.

What type of milk are Cheddar cheese curds made from?

Cheese curds being Cheddar are made from cow's milk.

Are cheese curds made from pasteurized milk?

At Golden Age Cheese all of our cheeses are pasteurized so yes our cheese curds are too. It is quite rare to find raw milk cheese curds as most factories choose to pasteurize their cheeses and are required to do so by state laws.

What is the texture of fresh cheese curds?

The texture of a fresh cheese curd is soft and spongy, and will be moist (not dry like aged cheddar cheeses) as the whey from the cheese making process will not be completely pressed out (like aged Cheddars).

How can you tell that cheese curds are fresh?

Cheese curds are the best tasting when they are fresh. To tell that a cheese curd is fresh, you want to look for that small bit of moisture, squeaking when the cheese curds are bitten into, and look for coloring. If cheese curds are beginning to lose their freshness, the moisture will begin to dry up, the cheese curds will begin to look more like bite sized pieces of aged cheddar, and also will begin to yellow in color (fresh curds from Golden Age Cheese are always bright white). Cheese curds squeak not only when they are fresh out of the vat, but also regain their squeakiness when left at room temperature. You know you have found fantastic cheese curds if when you bite into one, it squeaks against your teeth! If cheese curds begin to lose their squeak then you know they are beginning to lose their freshness. The old saying that "the squeakier the cheese curd, the fresher" is very true!

Why do cheese curds squeak?

Many people don't realize that when eating cheese curd, there is one important characteristic in which they should be looking for. When eaten only days after it is made, cheese curd is known to squeak against your teeth when it is bitten into. Cheese curds squeak because they are still "wet" and have some of the whey from the cheese making process in the pieces. The older the cheese curds, the less whey or moisture in each piece which causes the squeak to disappear. So remember when eating cheese curds, it is important to look for the squeakiest curds because the squeakier, the better!

Can cheese curds be frozen?

Yes cheese curds can be frozen for up to six months. Although cheese curds do not taste as fresh and may become a bit crumbly once thawed, they still taste great! It is actually recommended to use frozen cheese curds when making fried cheese curds.

How big is a cheese curd?

A cheese curd is a bite sized piece of cheese. Getting a bit more technical, a cheese curd usually isn't longer than your pinky finger and an inch on each side.

Can cheese curds be eaten any other way than just plain?

Cheese curds come in many different flavors. Flavors range from bacon & chive, ranch, and Italian, to very spicy like Cajun, jalapeno, and even habanero. Another way to eat cheese curd is frying it. By using cheese curd batter mix, cheese curds can be fried up and enjoyed like a bite sized Mozzarella stick. Also, some enjoy using the small cheese curd pieces to put on salads, make Poutine, or as a child friendly snack.

We would love to answer additional questions that you may have about cheese curds, so please be sure to drop a comment with your question and we'll respond with the answer as soon as possible!

Cheesiest Posts