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Better cheddar?

Let's dish about everyday cheddars--what's great, what do you avoid? And, for fun, if you have a favorite eating cheddar (in a higher price range), bring that on, too.

FAVORITE EVERYDAY CHEDDARS:
- Cabot (Hunter's Seriously Sharp--the one with red flannel on the label)--we use Cabot more often than not
- McAdam Sharp

I AVOID THESE CHEDDARS:
- Kraft (we picked it up last week as a quick grab and it's suboptimal, to say the least)
- Sargento (lacks flavor of good cheddars mentioned above)

SPECIAL CHEDDAR BUYS:
- It's been too long. Tell me about your favorites!

The beauty of Cabot and McAdam is not only the taste, but the price. I stock up like mad when shredded Cabot is 2/$4 at our local supermarkets. And I've picked up blocks of McAdam for dirt cheap at PriceRite, a local discount market. Let the cheesy discussion begin!

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  1. I find that most national brands are quite bland. My first criteria is to look for the age on the label. I like bold, complex cheddar, so I usually go for one in the 7-10 year range. I look for small batch producers too. I will go for Tillamook if I need a middle of the road cheddar though. Depends on what I'm making.

    21 Replies
    1. re: Shane Greenwood

      I am not sure there is a cheddar that is in the 7-10 year range; even 5 year old cheddars are pretty rare.

      1. re: PBSF

        There is. Keep an eye out for them at quality cheese shops and farmers markets. You won't find cheese like that at the grocery store.

        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          I shop at quite a few cheese shops in the San Francisco area including Cow Girl, Cheese Board and have not come across cheddars aged that long. I'll definitely have to look more closely. Do you know a cheese shop/farmer's market in the SF Bay Area that would have some? Thanks.

          1. re: PBSF

            I'm pretty sure Cowgirl doesn't make any cheddars, so they wouldn't be the right place to look. Cheese Board might be a better bet. I haven't looked for them there, but you should ask them. The best ones I've had were coming out of the midwest, so you might want to order online. I used to see them at the farmers markets in Chicago. If you do a google search for "10-year cheddar", you'll find a lot of hits.

            1. re: Shane Greenwood

              Thank you very much for the info on "10-year cheddar" on google. We'll have to order some. Cowgirl in the SF Ferry Plaza Market carries many cheeses that they don't make, including cheddars from the Midwest and East, also from Neal Yard.

              1. re: PBSF

                Ah right, I see what you meant. Definitely check for some of those online, there are some mentions further down in this thread too. They are rare since many excellent cheddars are made without a lot of age (6-12 months). But definitely worth finding if you want to explore some new styles and flavors.

            2. re: PBSF

              I just bought an 8 year old Quebec cheddar at Say Cheese in Cole Valley. It's a white cheddar, soft and creamy texture with a mellow yet complex flavor, very good. They have a five year version as well.

              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                Thank you very much for the tip on aged cheddar at Say Cheese. I'll give them a try.

                1. re: PBSF

                  Just saw 5 1/2 year old yellow cheddar at Sigona's in Redwood City last night too. Tasted mellow with a slightly sharp finish. Not as complex as the Say Cheese Quebec Cheddar, but still quite good.

          2. re: PBSF

            I see the 7, 10 all the time at my local market. Sometimes there is even 15!

            I nominate Cracker Barrel for avoiding, even for everyday nibbling. Rubbery and tasteless!

            1. re: pinkprimp

              Avoid Cracker Barrel! Read the ingredients - it contains natamycin, an antibiotic.

              1. re: sandylc

                Natamycin is a harmless antifungal additive.

              2. re: pinkprimp

                I don't think I've ever bought Cracker Barrel, but this story just put it on my radar.

                http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/bus...

              3. re: PBSF

                I've eaten 10 year cheddar, maybe older. It's not for everyone! Can be VERY pungent. I do love a 5-7 year old cheddar a lot. The cheese shop at the Mall of America in Minneapolis sells aged cheddar...and a great Stilton too!

                1. re: PBSF

                  My supermarket in Montreal stocks a 12 yr old Cheddar regularly...

                  Its amazing with a glass of port

                    1. re: davekry

                      The Metro in La Cite ... they are in the pre packaged cheese section across from where the olives and salads are at the meat counter... In a black box I believe.

                      And and Im 90 percent sure they would have it at Vielle Europe ... might even be less expensive there.

                2. re: Shane Greenwood

                  Bah humbug. Please prove me wrong. Any cheese aged that long has to be drydrydry. I am happy to spend money for the right cheese, but this simply doesn't seem sensible when you can get a two-year-old from Bobolink that is divine and makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches on the planet.

                  I remember working for an Italian food distributor who learned that the competition was selling 5-year-old Reggiano Parm, and we were laughing hysterically. Great taste is good enough. Why spend an extra 5-7 years storing your inventory? That is expensive, and sensible consumers are not anxious to pay for the difference, especially if it will be an inferior cheese.

                  1. re: pitterpatter

                    There are two very different ways to age cheddar. Cheddars that are formed into wheels and mature on shelves in an aging room develop a natural rind. They generally cannot be aged much longer than two years without becoming too dry and crumbly. However, cheddars that are formed into large blocks and then sealed in Cryovac can age for years and still be moist enough to enjoy. Hook's in Wisconsin makes 12-year-old block cheddar and occasionally sells its 15-year cheddar (for $50 a lb. or more!). In fact, Shane Greenwood, the person to whom you replied, posted again later in this thread that he bought some of Hook's 15-year cheddar.

                    I tend to prefer naturally aged cheddars, especially British ones. They are more balanced in flavor than block cheddars. However, people who like their cheddar to be big, bold and mouth-puckering usually prefer the super-aged block cheddars, of which there are many good ones made in the US, Quebec and elsewhere.

                    1. re: pitterpatter

                      I take it you're not Canadian. I grew up on aged cheddar cheese and it is anything but dry. Just delicious. My father wouldn't buy anything aged fewer than 5 years.

                  2. For eating, Montgomery, Keen's and Quick's in that order. Unless I see any small producer ones in the cheese shop. Like most cheddars, these three are aged 18 -24 months, to provide a good sharp taste and dry texture.

                    For cooking, any decent supermarket stuff with a strength score of 5 or 6. I see little point in mild cheddar.

                    Whilst I think there's a place for cheddar, it wouldnt be my preferred hard cheese for eating or, indeed, for most cooking (except, perhaps, a cheese sauce)

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      The English are sufficiently fanatical about their cheese that they actually have strength scores - that's a nice revelation. Over here in the US we're stuck with length of aging, such vague descriptions as Medium, Sharp and Extra Sharp, and word of mouth via forums of this kind. The only other way we have of finding a decent cheese is to patronize such cheese stores and supermarkets as put out samples. I've discovered some small creameries here on the west coast that make some beautiful cheddars, though nothing like the very old one that a friend brought from her home in Wisconsin, supplied by her retired cheese-maker father. It was incredibly stout and rich, with the kind of crunch effect you get in a good aged gruyere, but it was the last of that on the planet - he'd shut down his factory a decade before.

                      Again, if I had easy access to the kinds of non-cheddar hard cheeses still available in the UK, even after so many have apparently died out, I'd be as blasé about it as Harters is. But my choice is restricted by both availability and price - yes, I can get Wensleydale or Double Gloucester, but I can't dammit afford it, except for small bits for a party tray.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        "Strength scores" for cheese goes on my "What I learned on Chowhound today" list. :) I'm with you, Will--it would be nice to have something like that here in the US.

                        The lost chord of cheese you described from Wisconsin sounded exquisite. Too bad it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

                        1. re: kattyeyes

                          Once in a lifetime for me, but for Patty the cheesemaker's daughter it was the end of an era - her family had lived over the factory! This cheese had actually been frozen, and she'd been given about five pounds of it, plus several packages of local sausage, because the freezer was being cleaned out. The fat content of the cheese was so high it had suffered not at all, or at least the flavor hadn't. It was like tasting a genuinely ancient port or madeira.

                        2. re: Will Owen

                          Will

                          I try not to be blase about good cheese in the UK. It's a precious product and one ofwhich many folk do not take advantage of. Most sold is block creamery cheese of no great distinction - although supermarkets are likely to sell at least one of the three cheddars I mentioned.

                          This isnt the thread for a recent history of our cheese, but you're right about the demise of many producers. Milk production was strictly controlled by the government in World War 2 and cheese was very much a rationed item (I think it was 2oz per person, per week). Small production was all but impossible and milk was sent to the major creameries where the government permitted the production of the main regional styles we see today (like Wensleydale or, in my region, Cheshire & Lancashire). It's only in comparitively recent years that the small producers have started to regain a decent market.

                          Just for interest, here's a link to my favourite Cheshire cheesemaker. Family produced since 1930, Mr & Mrs Bourne are a super couple who sell at my local farmers market. I see they will sell overseas so, depending on what imprt restrictions might apply where you are, it could be an opportunity. http://www.hsbourne.co.uk/

                          John

                        3. re: Harters

                          I haven't had Quick's but definitely agree on the Montgomery and Keen's line-up (have some Keen's in the fridge now). I generally don't like cheddar as an eating cheese and only use it sometimes in cooking (in which case, I found that the Kraft all natural sharp cheddar did a phenomenal job in my biscuits).

                          I don't have an everyday cheese (or, in this case, an everyday cheddar). I just eat less cheese and buy more expensive/artisan ones.

                        4. While I do enjoy a trip to a cheese market for some special aged cheeses, I must rely on my local chain grocery store for our 'everyday cheeses'. We go though way too much cheese and breadsticks to be spending lots of money on cheese.

                          I love a good New York extra-sharp cheddar. As for national brands, I actually really like Cracker Barrel 2% sharp white cheddar. I typically will stay away from any low fat cheese as they usually have some weird unidentifiable underlying taste, but this one is really good. Even my husband likes it.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: nmurawsk

                            I liked the Cracker Barrel sharp yellow cheddar for everyday use but it seems to be extinct, except for the marbled yellow and white. Trader Joes has plenty of choices but once I discovered their Double Gloucester with Caramelized Onion, I was home!

                          2. We're blessed by living near the Pine River Cheese & Butter Co-operative, a dairy farmers' co-op In Bruce County Ontario. Our everyday cheese is their "extra old" which has been aged for about 2 years or more. White or yellow - makes no difference. There is one twist though. There is a bin in the retail area with"trim ends" - the bits left over from packaging which are compressed so they have a very, very satisfying texture. It's crumbly andthe taste is quite sharp - I'm especially fond of the calicium nubbins that give it a crunch. It's a good snacking cheese and excellent on toast or English muffiin under the broiler, in rabbits or in cheese sauce.

                            Pine River premium cheeses are aged fo 3, 5, 7 or 9 years. We go for the 7 or 9 year ones. The sharpness has mellowed considerably but the taste is still strong and complex. The nearest taste I can compare it to is that of a dry white wine. The nubbins are usually gone and the texture has changed from crumbly to buttery. The price difference between these and the younger premiums are minimal. I have not seen the 9 year old anywhere but Pine River's shop.It's not available online either (see link below) and even the 7 year old can be hard to find.

                            Baldersons and Empire crop up on the Ontario board as well and I would dearly love to compare 3 cheeses from the same year class over 5 years.

                            http://www.pinerivercheese.com/

                            I don't know if it was/is available in the States but we used to favour "Mclarens Imperial Sharp" which came in a flat, round, red package. It was indeed, "sharp" and it was spreadable. Some tears ago it was bought out by Kraft. it may be just the "Kraft" association, but the product seemed to change a bit. Put it in front of me and I'll still happily eat it.

                            I haven't tasted an unpasteurised cheddar but can say that there is a sharp divide between product made from fresh whole milk and that from milk components. Having said that, I'll still scoff a piece of Kraft or Cherry hill.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: DockPotato

                              I am so jealous of your everyday use "extra old"--I love the little bits of crunch, it sounds so wonderful!

                              1. re: DockPotato

                                After too many old cheeseless (except when my parents sent it) years in the States, I have been happy to find good Canadian cheddar in NY markets in the past year or so. TJ's Canadian is decent, the Amish Markets in Manhattan sell one that was better when I first found it (is now more akin to a new cheese), and Sea/Nature Land in Park Slope sells a very good Quebec aged cheese. Nothing compares with the 5-7 year old my dad used to send me from the Bright, ON cheese factory, but a need is met. Re the Bay Area: we lived in Berkeley, CA for many years, and I never came across the kind of cheese I was looking for there. I was snottily infomed by a delightful woman at the Cheeseboard on Shattuck that I obviously knew nothing about cheddars since I disdained theirs. Right. My grandfathers both spoke lovingly about eating cheese so old it had what were referred to as skippers (if you don't know what they are, you probably don't really want to). We quite often had 15-20 year old cheeses on hand. Long line of cheddar eaters in my family.

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  You are right about not wanting to know about the skippers. I should have trusted you and avoided Wikipedia. Fascinating species but I am not going to think about eating them if I have not already done so. I am in the SF Bay area and have not seen cheddars over 36 months old. I will have to keep looking.

                                  1. re: Brog12

                                    Really aged cheddars are still pretty thin on the ground down here.
                                    Ha ha, made you look! Not very appealing.

                              2. My go-to is the Cabot Hunter; when it's 2 bucks for 8 ounces I load up. Cabot makes a nice, creamy horseradish cheddar that I obnoxiously scarfed down at their factory sampling room, but my local Florida markets don't stock it.
                                The 4 year and older black wax cheddars get pricey. Grafton is pretty good. The best I ever had was a no-name slice from a wheel simply labeled "5 year old Canadian cheddar". It was the Holy Grail and I have not found anything close since. "Rats" , whines this cheese mouse.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Veggo

                                  We load up at the same sale--how can you go wrong? Especially when its primary use (in this house, anyway) is cheesy eggs or strata?

                                  I want to say I bought Grafton in (of all places) a discount supermarket. I'll have to look when I go again. And I'm with you--some of the nicer cheddars we used to get were from Canada and in a league of their own. Mmmmmmmmmmm!