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The world's most famous hard cheese, now made throughout the world.
No one can be certain when true Cheddar was first produced, but it mentioned many times in and around the reign of Elizabeth 1, and was actually made near the Somerset village of the same name during this period.
It is more than likely that the first cheeses were made from any milk to hand - so this would most likely have been ewes' or goats' milk, with cow"s milk only becoming the norm in Tudor times. Early-medieval cows had little surplus milk, after feeding their young, and it was only with careful inter-breeding that more milk became available. By Elizabethan times the limited supplies of cows milk were being pooled in a cooperative fashion; this led to enormous cheeses weighing up to 120lb, which took many years to mature!
About 98% of all Cheddar made in the UK is made in blocks as opposed to round truckles. The most important aspect of this is that these cheeses are no longer wrapped in cheesecloth, so can"t breathe and mature. Anything wrapped in plastic is a sealed unit, and will have little character; any strength will have come from the addition of salt, not from the natural evaporation of moisture.
Cheddar is now made all around the world, in countries as diverse as Egypt, Japan and Slovakia - but none of this (and most of the production of the UK) can match of the very best, now made by just a few farms.
The West Country is still the place to find the best cheeses, about 10 farms still make Cheddar in the traditional manner - with Keen"s and Montgomerie"s vying for top spot - although the character of each is different. Names to look out for - Denhay, Greens, Isle of Man, Keen's, Montgomery, Quicke's. See "Cheddar, Keen's"; "Cheddar, Greens"; "Cheddar, Montgomery's"; "Cheddar, Quicke's"; "Harding, Joseph"