Why Traditional English Cheddar Is Aged In Caves | Regional Eats

Cheddar cheese is named after a
small village in the West Country in
England. We are here to watch
the traditional method of making it, and find out
why cheesemakers restarted the centuries-old tradition
of storing it in caves. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is the only dairy in this village, so we’re about to see the real deal. About 333,000 tons of cheddar are produced in the UK per year. To get the official Protected
Designation of Origin label West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, the cheese has to be made
in one of the four counties: Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset. The cheese must be made from milk from grazing herds no more
than 30 miles from the farm. It has to be made from
a traditional recipe. The curds need to be turned by hand. And it must be aged to a
minimum of nine months. The earliest record of cheddar anywhere is at Cheddar, in Somerset, in 1170. The land around this village has been at the heart of English
cheesemaking since the 15th century. Today, as many Cheddar producers have upscaled and required more land, there is only one traditional cheesemaker left in the village. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company produces 60 tons of cheese each year. John Spencer: Well, certainly down here, you have the Somerset Levels, and then you have the
top of the Cheddar Gorge, and each year you would get a lot of water coming down from the Gorge, bringing a lot of silt, which really made the pastures verdant and very, very nutritious. Ju: In the morning, 2,000 liters of milk is delivered from a farm four miles away. It takes around 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilogram of cheddar. The milk is agitated, which mixes the fat evenly through the milk. Some farmhouse producers
use pasteurized milk, but here it’s raw milk. John: We use it unpasteurized. We need to know that
the quality of the milk and the safety is fine. The farm that we get it from has Holstein Friesians, British Friesians. Ju: A vegetarian replacement
for rennet is then added, which sets the milk into a junket. This is cut to form curds and whey. The curds and whey are heated to about 40 degrees Celsius to make the curds solid. This influences the moisture level In the finished product. Cheeses like Gorgonzola and mozzarella have a lot of moisture in them,
so they go off very quickly, whereas Parmesan has little moisture, so lasts for a long time. Cheddar is somewhere in
the middle, around 40%. The starter cultures
develop and multiply. The whey is drained away. Next, the all-important
cheddaring process, where the curds, now having
the texture of chicken breast, are turned and cut. John: What cheddaring does
is it squeezes the curd and forces more whey out of it, and gradually it’ll get drier and drier, and the texture changes very quickly. Ju: The curd is salted
by hand to preserve it and is milled into small chips. It’s pressed into a 25-kilogram mold and left overnight. In the morning, it’s dipped in hot water to smooth the edge of the cheese and remove the imprint of the cloth. It’s then treated with a
vegetarian-based substance. The use of cheesecloth is a vital way of allowing the cheese to
gradually dry and develop a rind. The only thing that identifies it is a tag that states
the date of production and the weight of the cheese. The mellow, mature, and vintage cheddars are all stored on site,
where they are turned, and the free mold is vacuumed away. The cave-matured variety is carried into the famous Gough’s
Cave in the Mendip Hills. The constant temperature
and humidity, nearly 98%, provide perfect conditions
in which to mature cloth-bound cheese. The moisture content is
a critical component, and it ensures the cultures and enzymes move on more quickly, producing
a more complex flavor. It takes on the natural yeasts and mold from the atmosphere in the cave, leading to an earthy flavor. The cheese’s strength is defined
by the length of the aging. For mellow cheddar,
it’s four to six months; mature, 10 to 12 months; and vintage, 20 to 24 months. Cave-matured should have less
of a bite at 12 months old. We tried some out to see if
there’s a taste difference between the maturations. So, the first one I’m
gonna have a little bite of is the cave-matured cheddar. It’s really creamy. It almost has the consistency of quite a medium to mild cheddar. You can tell the difference
of the rinds here, so I’ve got the cave-aged
one, which has sort of like that really damp, quite dark
color in the rind of it, and then I’ve got the vintage one, which is just a little bit lighter. OK, now to try some of this. Wow, the flavor of that is incredible. It has such a kick to it and such a bite. Immediately, when you
cut into vintage cheddar, you want there to be
almost a flakiness to it, and that’s exactly what this has got. The company is the first
one in recent memory to reintroduce cheddar cheese back into a natural cave
environment to mature. The PDO label was set up
to protect the industry from non-genuine products. So, why did the Cheddar Gorge
Cheese Company opt out of it? John: Some years ago we had
PDO status for our cheese, but we deliberately opted out of it. So, with a PDO, you can make
it from pasteurized milk; we make all ours from unpasteurized. With a PDO, you can mature it in plastic; we mature ours in cloth. We are still doing the things that would enable us to qualify for PDO. What we’ve just done is go
on a little bit further, quite a lot further.

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