Last week good friends of ours invited us to a beer tasting at their place and asked me to bring a cheese plate. I was specifically instructed not to spend a lot of money, so the plate I assembled included a mid-priced vintage Gouda from Holland, a very aggressively priced double cream brie from France, and an English cheddar that was on sale at Whole Foods that day (this gathering was before I read this article from Slate on why one should never bring brie to a party). Anyway, we had a fabulous time sampling at least 15 beers and by the end of the evening I was tipsy enough that I forgot to photograph the cheese plate before it was mostly eaten. One thing that was not forgotten, however, was the cheddar. My husband loved it so much that he went back to the store the next day to buy more. When he got home, he realized that he had accidentally bought the farmhouse cheddar from Shelburne Farms in Vermont. How much does this guy love the cheese? So much that he made another trip to the store to buy the correct cheese. That’s when the cheddar faceoff began.
The cheddar I’m talking about is the Seaside “rugged mature English cheddar” by Ford Farm and made at the Ashley Chase Estate in Dorset, England. It was sweet and creamy with an earthiness that was punctuated with a crunch from the tiny calcium crystals formed during the aging process. We ate it on crackers the first night and then a plain baguette the next day. I really like it by itself on the board, but given the reasonable price, I can definitely see myself cooking with it as well. After looking around on the farm’s website, I learned that Ford Farm developed this cheese specifically for the American palate, and they have a similar cheese called Coastal that they market to their UK consumers. I would be very interested in trying that one out to see how they compare and how the American and British palates differ.
The cheddar from Shelburne Farms was also good. Its texture was more dense and smooth. The cheese had a sharp tang that lingered after each bite. This cheese was more of what I was expecting from an American cheddar than the Seaside, and I think it was the Seaside’s little surprises like the sweetness and crunch that really turned me on. That being said, I would buy the Shelburne Farms cheddar again if I were looking for a sharper cheese.
One thing I am curious about is why the Seaside has those crunchy crystals and the Shelburn does not, since both are aged. Perhaps this will become clearer as I learn more about the cheese-making process.
What is YOUR favorite cheddar?