Foodie Travels: The Home of Cheddar Cheese

The landscape of Cheddar

The landscape of Cheddar

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word cheddar? I bet it is a slice of firm cow’s milk cheese that can be found just about in any supermarket. But did you know that there is a village called Cheddar in Somerset, United Kingdom, where this cheese was invented over a thousand years ago and where the tradition of making it by hands remains to the present day?

Cheddar is an excellent destination for a day trip. Make sure you arrive here early as there is much more to see and do apart from visiting the cheese factory. Checking out the Cheddar Gorge is one of those attractions not to be missed out on. If hiking and climbing is your thing, you might want to explore the Gorge on your own, otherwise just take a lazy bus tour to have a quick look at the high peaks of it. A couple of caves in the Gorge are definitely worth a visit not only for having a look at the impressive stalactites and stalagmites, but also for checking out the natural storage of cheese, that is matured in Gough’s cave.

Gough’s cave

Cheese being matured in Gough’s cave

I would suggest doing the outdoors sight seeing during the first part of the day and popping into the cheese factory after the lunch time. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is one of a few companies where they still make traditional cheddar by hands and their cheese is the only cheddar that is actually made in Cheddar.

Cheese maker

Cheese maker

You can witness cheese making process and see the result – from 5 to 7 truckles of cheddar being produced every day. Since the first part of the day is about adding rennet to milk and letting it set until it makes curd, there’s not much of action happening, but you can always watch a video about the cheese making process while there. The more interesting part of the process starts around mid-day, when the curds get chopped, ground and then eventually poured into molds and pressed.

Cheddaring

The process of cheddaring

After the cheese loose the whey, the truckles get wrapped in the cloth and put back in the molds. Four days later a mixture of butter and lard is rubbed into the cloth to prevent cheese from drying and then they go rest on the shelves next door. Every two weeks each truckle is turned and rubbed gently. Rough behaviour is not acceptable here as unwary handling might crack the rind. It takes from 3 to 18 months or more until the cheddar is ready to go for sale. The longer the cheese is matured, the stronger the flavour gets.

Cheese shelves

Shelves of cheese

When you think you’ve learned everything about cheese making process, head to the factory shop to sample and to stock up on some of their produce. Start your cheese tasting with natural Mellow cheddar and move towards Mature and Vintage. The highlight in authentic Somerset cheddar section is their famous Cave Matured Cheddar – the winner of the Gold medal in World Cheese Awards. Caves are ideal for maturing cheese as they have a constant temperature and humidity, giving the cheese thinner rind and a distinctive flavour. Natural Blue cheddar is also an interesting discovery due to unusual combination of hard cheese and fine veins of natural blueing in it.

Cheese shop

The sampling counter

The next section to move on will be cheddars with natural flavours added to them. The variety is something around seven, so let your personal taste dictate on what to choose to take with you. You can’t go more authentic than Cheddar with Cider, Garlic & Chives – light and fragrant with recognisable cider flavour lingering in your mouth. Cheddar with a Good Slosh of Port is worth your attention too: very mild, with a hint of wine tannins in it. Cheese with Yeast Extract is quite distinctive from the others due to its slightly darker colour and a bit of caramel-like flavour.

Cheese selection

Cheese selection

If you are curious about discovering and comparing different British cheeses, here you will find some of the British classics from other dairy farms too. A selection ranges form subtle Cornish Yarg that has been wrapped in nettles to mature, to Pendragon Hard Buffalo, to Fosse Way Fleece Hard Sheep, to Pennard Vale Hard Goat Cheese and of course English Stilton.

Making notes on your favourites while sampling would be a good idea, otherwise you might forget what is what and need to do the sampling all over again. When you make up your mind, pick up a few pieces of cheese from the shelves, throw in some biscuits and chutneys and head off for a picnic at the scenic surroundings of the Gorge.

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