What’s Aged Cheddar?

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All cheddar cheese is aged, with a minimum of three months required for mild cheddar. Aged cheddar becomes sharper and sweeter with a harder texture. The process involves tightly controlled temperature and humidity, replicating the conditions found in Cheddar caves. There are no official guidelines on how long cheddar cheese must age, but extra sharp cheddar is typically aged for at least 18 months. Commercial cheeses that emulate aged cheddar but aren’t aged are not true cheddar. Aged cheddar has a distinct flavor and should be served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

All cheddar cheese is, technically, aged cheddar. Aging the cheese after it has been formed and pressed is part of the process needed to turn it into an edible and tasty cheese. At a minimum, cheddar cheese needs to be allowed to mature for about three months to have the expected character of mild cheddar. There are, however, aged cheddar cheeses that have been allowed to age for 10 years or more. As cheddar is allowed to age, its flavor becomes sharper and sweeter, and its texture becomes harder and more brittle.

The process of creating aged cheddar involves placing cheddared cheeses in an area where temperature and humidity are tightly controlled. When cheese originated in the English town of Cheddar, nearby caves provided the perfect conditions for cheese to age. Cheddar production is now done in many parts of the world and the conditions found within Cheddar caves are replicated so the cheese can age properly.

Most countries, including the United States, have no official guidelines on how long cheddar cheese must age to earn designations like “sharp” or “reserve.” To meet guidelines that define the chemical makeup of cheese, aged cheddar must mature for at least three months; beyond that, the taste and age of the cheddar is entirely dependent on the labeling and preferences of the cheesemakers. That said, extra sharp cheddar is typically aged for at least 18 months, with some commercial cheeses aged up to five years.

With the advent of the commercial production of cheddar cheese, some confusion arose as to what cheddar cheese actually is and what is not. Aged cheddar cheese is often labeled as such and appears in blocks, sometimes encased in wax or other casings. Commercial cheeses that emulate aged cheddar, but aren’t aged, tend to be chewy or come in the form of creams, slices, or non-solid emulsions. These cheeses aren’t cheddar and are often just flavors suspended in oil.

Real aged cheddar has a distinct, sharp flavor and sweetness. It should be served at room temperature or slightly chilled and eaten raw with slices of bread, crackers or fruit. The longer the cheese is aged, the less prone it is to melt evenly and is best cooked as part of a more evenly melting cheese blend.

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