Cheddar is one of those quintessential cheeses that everyone knows and loves. Most people are only familiar with the silky smooth blocks from Wisconsin or Vermont, but that’s not even the original cheddar. The OG comes from England and it’s clothbound, crumbly, and lush with a grassy tang that will leave your tongue buzzing for hours. Here’s the difference between the two cheddars, and some pairing suggestions that’ll take you to paradise.
What’s the Difference Between Clothbound Cheddar and Block Cheddar?
These two pieces of cheese might not look alike, but they’re both cheddars. The one on the left is from Wisconsin, and the other is from Scotland. One’s smooth and meltable, and the other’s crumbly and grassy. But both cheeses are from the same cheddar family.
So why do they look and taste so different?
What exactly is cheddar?
All cheddars go through a process called “cheddaring” that helps to release excess moisture, firm up the texture, and develop that sexy tangy flavor. The process originated almost 1,000 years ago in an English village called Cheddar, located in Sommerset. Today, all cheddars go through this process, no matter where they’re made.
What is cheddaring and how does it work?
Let me break it down for you.
- First, cheesemakers use rennet to coagulate the milk, separating it into solids and liquids.
- Then, they cut the curds and drain the whey.
- Next, the cheesemaker shapes the curds into big ol’ slabs.
- After that, the slabs are stacked on top of each other and regularly turned and flipped to drain more whey and develop the acidity.
- Finally, the slabs are milled back into curds, salted, and put back into molds to be pressed and readied for aging.
So, if both these cheeses get cheddared, how do they end up so different? Let’s get into what makes block cheddar and clothbound cheddar so unique and special.
American-style Block Cheddar
- Shape: big blocks, some as large as 650lbs
- Aging: in wax or vacuum-sealed in plastic, usually for a few months, but there’s really no limit to how long they can age
- Rind: none
- Texture: high-moisture, semi-firm, and sliceable
- Uses: grate into baked goods or melt younger blocks
- Flavor profile: simple, tangy, and often slightly sweet, with more complexity in older blocks
- Beverage Pairings: air with malty pale ale, nutty brown ale, cider
- Food Pairings: apples, nuts, crackers, burgers, and tomato soup
- Look for: Shelburne Farms Cheddar, Hook’s Cheddar, Widmer’s Cheddar, Grafton Cheddar, and Prairie Breeze from Milton Creamery
Isle of Mull Cheddar from Scotland
British-style Clothbound Cheddar
- Shape: drum-shaped wheels, usually about 30-40 pounds
- Aging: coated in fat, like lard or butter, and wrapped in cheesecloth to age for any where from one to five years
- Rind: firm and textured that interacts with its aging environment, creating a musty flavor
- Texture: dry, crumbly, with a bit of crystallized crunch
- Uses: best savored alone or on a cheese plate since they are not good melters
- Flavor profile: savory and complex flavors, with acidic, fruity and grassy notes.
- Beverage Pairings: fruity IPA’s, cider, Scotch, or a juicy Pinot Noir
- Food Pairings: chutney, apple jam, fresh apples, toasted pecans, salami, and mostarda
- Look for: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm, Bandaged Cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy, Flory’s Truckle from Milton Creamery, Montgomery’s Cheddar, and Quicke’s Cheddar
Looking for more sexy cheeses to pleasure yourself with? Check out these sexpots!
Shout out to my friend Tom Perry at Shelburne Farms for helping me fact check the cheddar making process!