Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 764 : Aging and cheese

Yesterday I participated in a really fun Vintage vertical Cheddar and Veuve Clicquot Champagne tasting that we will explore in depth over the weekend on the blog but for the moment, I thought it would be interesting to have a bit of a discussion about aging specifically with cheddars. 

Cheddar production dates back to approximately the 12th century in South Western England, more specifically the counties of Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset which to this day are the only places that have a PDO (protected designation of origin), all other cheddars produced in England and world wide do not.

Your first question before we get into the manner in which the flavor profile of cheddar changes with age is probably, what exactly is cheddar and how does it differentiate from other cheeses?

Cheddar style cheeses are based on the process of cheddaring which is when after the cheese curds are heated and salted, they are cut into cubes and stacked and turned so as to drain the whey. This process is repeated and is the reason that cheddars tend to be denser than other cheeses.

Just like the flavor profile of a wine or champagne deepens and develops with age, the same goes for cheeses. Cheddar is one of the only cheeses in America that you can see the drastic difference in flavor profile over time as one is able to enjoy cheddars aged for anywhere from six months to fifteen years.

Young cheddars are round, friendly, milky, slightly sweet, and very approachable. Great for grilled cheeses, six to nine month aged cheddars are simple and straight forward in a comforting way.

As a cheddar gains a little bit more age on it, say even just one year of age, one notices that there is a slight deepening of flavor -- milkiness is still on the forefront, but there is a tang that develops, a nice little biting tinge to the cheese. Still approachable but certainly drier than its younger counterpart.

A year later, your cheddar will become nuttier and more crumbly, yet still bright however with hints of a caramelly bent developing. A sense of depth of flavor profile will become apparent, two years does a cheddar well. Big and bold, this is the first time I think a cheddar could stand up to a nice medium bodied red wine.

Checking back in at three years, your cheddar has become much more crumbly and is beginning to develop that classic aged cheese crystallization. Much more tangy and biting, this cheese reaches each and every crevice of your mouth in the right sort of ways -- savory yet with a nutty, caramelly, buttterscotchy side to it, this is a great cheese for a nice big beer paired with some walnuts and a crusty baguette.

Two years later at five years, our cheddar is super duper crumbly and the first thing you notice is the color has darkened and that aged crystallization is at the forefront. Think aged Parmesan but with a dialed up savory quotient, this makes your lips pucker in all the right sort ways. The caramel, butterscotch and nutty notes are still present but there is suddenly a rustic barnyardy sensibility to it. This cheese can stand up to the big Italian reds, no problem where as its six month old version would be lost with a glass of big Italian red. 

As the cheddar gets older, it becomes more tangy, sharper, crystallized and more caramelly. It will go from a very friendly, very approachable easy to enjoy cheese to one that is complex, dynamic, and nuanced. I look forward to sharing the tasting notes and photos from yesterday's fabulous tasting with you all shortly.

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