What is cheddar?

Once cheddar was 'Cheddar', a large, hard-pressed barrel of cheese made by a particular process in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, which is close to deep caves that are perfect for maturing the cheeses.

The slightest variation in milk origin, temperatures used, type of rennet and how much, drainage techniques, salting, size and ageing will all produce different flavours in what seem to be the same cheese. True cheddar’s special difference is based on cheddaring, a process of cutting the curds, stacking these and then turning them by hand as they drained and firmed under their own weight. That plus the flavour of milk made from the grasses of Cheddar Gorge made a unique, easily liked eating and cooking cheese. But no one thought to protect the name or the process in the same way that French or Italian cheeses are, hence cheddar-type cheese are today made all round the world.

How to cook cheddar

As well as providing a very satisfying snack or sandwich, by itself or with almost anything savoury including pickles and chutney, cheddar accompanies fruit, especially apples and pears, fruity jams in sandwiches, fruit pies, fine wines and beer. It can be cubed into salads, grated onto baked potatoes or into savoury pastry. Try not to use mild cheddar for cooking, as its flavour simply disappears; if you're cooking with cheddar-style cheese, choose something with real heft to its flavour – you’ll use less and get better results.

See our cheddar recipes.

How to store cheddar

Like all cheese, cheddar and cheddar-style cheeses should be tightly wrapped so their cut surfaces are protected from the air. If refrigerated it should be brought to room temperature before eating.

Availability of cheddar

Cheddar is available from specialist cheese shops and supermarkets all year round.

Choose the best cheddar

The only guarantee of tasting cheddar the way it once was and should be is to buy cheese labelled West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, which guarantees it is made with milk only from four counties of South West England. Some of these are still made with unpasteurised milk, which better reflects the grasses and wildflowers of the farms on which the cows were feeding and that gives a notably fuller flavour and sharper finish.

These genuine cheddars will be wrapped in cloth and matured nine months before being sold and often are aged very much longer, as vintage cheddars.