Cheddar is the most popular cheese in America. But why do people love Cheddar so much? Quite possibly because Cheddar has an inherent undertone of sweetness due to the high temperature in the cheesemaking process that brings forward the sugars in the milk solids. This caramelization in cheddar production creates a taste that is widely palatable and highly sought-after by fifth-graders and gourmands alike.
Needless to say, not all Cheddars are created equal.
The Quicke family has been farming at Home Farm in Southwest England, near the village of Newton St. Cyres, County Devon, for more than450 (!) years. With a population of 867, County Devon is home to far more cows than people. Twenty-five years ago, John Quicke and his wife Prue built their dairy on this beautiful pastureland, where John’s daughter Mary continues to produce the cheeses today.
Quicke’s 330 cows milk year-round and graze on 290 acres of grass for up to 10 months of the year to provide the rich, creamy milk to make this cheese. Cows that live in pastures produce an extremely high quality of milk and live a healthier, longer life — up to four times that of cows that live primarily in barns.
Every truckle (or wheel) of cheese is handmade by one of nine skilled cheesemakers before being wrapped in muslin and matured for up to 24 months. As defined by West Country Cheddar Law, traditional farmhouse Cheddar is handmade from raw milk, muslin-cloth-bound, and greased with lard. By wrapping each truckle in muslin, the cheese is allowed to breathe as it matures, forming the old-fashioned rind that makes a traditional Cheddar.
Quicke makes this Cheddar in three sizes, the best being the large format (15 kilo) because it ages better and develops many nuanced flavors from the pastures. The wheels are all aged a minimum of 10 months, but look for cheeses aged more than 14 months if you can find them. At this age, the cheese will have a nice moisture content and a mouthwatering creaminess, but still maintain the crumbliness of all good Cheddars.
Quicke’s Cheddar pairs well with chardonnay, hoppy beer, or a classic English hard apple cider. Try it in the tradition of the ploughman’s lunch: a big chunk of cheese, a nice portion of crusty bread, some strong whole-grain mustard, and a bit of cured salami, like the excellent Casalingo from Creminelli Fine Meats. This hearty meal is what sustained hardworking farmers for centuries, and is a very tasty combination, even if you work in an office instead of the great outdoors.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.