Cheddar cheese is a relatively hard, pale yellow to off-white, and sometimes sharp-tasting cheese from the English village of Cheddar, in Somerset. Cheddar cheese is the most popular cheese in the United Kingdom, accounting for 51% of the country's £1.9 billion annual cheese market.
Cheddar cheese has been copied widely, both in the United Kingdom and in other countries, including Ireland, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. In all of these 'Cheddar' cheese, in many forms, is readily available.
Central to the modernisation and standardisation of Cheddar cheese was Joseph Harding in the nineteenth century. For his development and propagation of modern cheese-making techniques he has been described as the father of Cheddar cheese. Harding is credited by some websites as the inventor of the Cheese Mill: whether or not this is true, Joseph Harding was responsible for the introduction of modernising cheddar production along a scientific approach. He was responsible for the introduction of this very English cheese into Scotland and North America. Joseph Harding's son, Henry Harding, was responsible for introducing Cheddar cheese production to Australia.
The name 'Cheddar cheese' has become widely used internationally, and does not currently have a protected designation of origin (PDO). However, the European Union recognises West Country Farmhouse Cheddar as a PDO. To meet this standard the cheese must be made in the traditional manner using local ingredients in one of the four designated counties of South West England: Somerset, Devon, Dorset, or Cornwall.
The Slow Food Movement, encouraged and advised by Neal's Yard Dairy, has recently created a Cheddar Presidia, claiming that only three cheeses should be called 'Cheddar'. Their specifications, which go well beyond the West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO, require that Cheddar cheese be made in Somerset, and with traditional methods, such as using raw milk, traditional animal rennet, and a cloth wrapping.
Cheddar is usually a pale yellow (off-white) natural colour, but food colourings are sometimes used. In parts of the United States and Canada, annatto, extracted from the tropical achiote tree, is used to give some Cheddar cheeses a deep orange colour. The largest producer of these cheeses in the United States, Kraft, uses a combination of annatto and oleoresin paprika, an oil made from paprika.
According to David Feldman, an author of trivia books, "The only reason why cheesemakers color their product is because consumers seem to prefer it." Some parts of the eastern United States prefer white cheddar, while most areas in the rest of the country like it yellow.
Cheddar cheese was sometimes packaged in black wax, but more commonly in larded cloth, impermeable to contaminants but still allowing the cheese to breathe, although this practice is now limited to Europe and to artisan cheese makers. In the United States, Cheddar cheese comes in several varieties, including mild, medium, sharp, extra sharp, New York Style, Colby/Longhorn, white, and Vermont. New York style Cheddar cheese is a particularly sharp Cheddar cheese, sometimes with a hint of smoke. It is usually slightly softer than milder Cheddar cheese. Colby/Longhorn Cheddar cheese has a mild to medium flavour. The curds are still distinct, often marbled in colour, varying from cream to yellow. Cheddar that has not been coloured is frequently labelled as "white Cheddar" or "Vermont Cheddar", regardless of whether it was produced in the state of Vermont. Vermont Cheddar is the nearest of any North American cheese to authentic English Cheddar.
Cheddar cheese is one of several products used by the United States Department of Agriculture to track the dairy industry; reports are issued weekly detailing prices and production quantities. The state of Wisconsin produces the most Cheddar cheese in the United States; other centres of production include upstate New York, Vermont, and Tillamook, Oregon.
Cheddar cheese is a good source of vitamin B12. A slice of vegetarian Cheddar cheese (40 g) contains about 0.5 µg of vitamin B12 (required daily intake for an adult is 2.4 µg).
Famous Cheddar cheeses from Somerset include Keen's, with a strong tang, and Montgomery's, with an apple after taste and the unpasteurised Cheddar made by the Gorge Cheese Company in Cheddar itself.
A cheese of 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) was produced in Ingersoll, Ontario, in 1866 and exhibited in New York and Britain; it was immortalised in the infamous poem "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds" by James McIntyre, a Canadian poet.
In 1893 farmers from the town of Perth, Ontario produced The Mammoth Cheese, at a weight of 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) for that year's Chicago World's Fair. When placed on exhibit with the Canadian display, The Mammoth Cheese promptly crashed through the floor and had to be placed on reinforced concrete in the Agricultural Building. It was more written about than any other single exhibit at the fair, and received the bronze medal.