A Guide to Great British Cheddars

In autumn, I love shopping for cheddar. Whereas other dames might enjoy picking up a new woolen cape or a mohair sweater this time of year, I fantasize about running my fingers across clothbound cheddar. Montgomery’s, Keen’s, Westombe, Quicke’s. These are a few of the brands that make me swoon. All British. All bold and crumbly. All perfect with a pint of hard cider, an IPA, a nut brown ale, or a Scotch cocktail. Add a dish of chutney and some toasted walnuts alongside, and I. Can’t. Even.

Come into my kitchen, let’s talk. Let me explain why British clothbound cheddar makes me purr.

  1. Cheddar originated in Somerset, England. When you eat a British cheddar from one of the great cheddar families, you consume history. You will taste how the original recipe for cheddar tasted. It’s much like experiencing real Champagne for the first time. You understand that everything else is an approximation.
  2. Clothbound cheddar is literally wrapped in cloth, smeared with lard or butter (to seal in moisture), and aged in a cave. As the cheese ripens, it develops beautiful earthy notes, a distinct taste you only find in clothbound cheeses. To me, these earthy notes are very autumnal.

In the British Isles, there are a handful of traditional cheddars. Most are made by single families who only produce one cheddar. These cheddars are so prized that even the Queen has her favorite. Ask any cheese-loving Brit about their favorite crumbly bum, and they will surely have an opinion. So you can form yours, I have dropped in my tasting notes from a recent spree.

5 Great British Cheddars to Taste Before You Die

Isle of Mull – (top right) First, I broke off a hunk of one of my old steadies from Scotland. Made on the Isle of Mull, this cheese is famous for its boozy edge, owing to the spent grain husks that the cows are fed from nearby Tobermory distillery. The cheesemakers, Jeff and Chris Reade, are originally from Somerset. Now they run a creamery alongside a biscuit factory on the island (did I mention that they have holiday cottages?!). This cheddar is one big boozy kiss on the lips. It’s sweet, rustic, and earthy with a bright finish and a tiny little sting on the end.

Keen’s – (bottom right) Wildly earthy and piquant with a huge pop of mustard oil flavor on the finish, this cheddar is so sharp it practically burns the roof of your mouth. I love the unbridled taste here — if you like spice and heat, this is the cheddar for you. Tackle it with a fiercely hoppy beer and spend the afternoon laughing/crying in the grass. This is a raw-milk wildebeest.

Montgomery’s – (middle) Made by the legendary Jamie Montgomery, this hunkaroo is considered the best cheddar in the industry by many mongers I know. It is ultra savory with a hint of horseradish, and it’s not terribly acidic as far as cheddars go. Eating this wedge made me crave a ploughman’s lunch in the grass. I shared it with friends over some very dry hard cider from Dressler Estate (local to PA), and we all swooned.

Westcombe – (bottom left) Sometimes called “5 Mile Cheddar” (because you can taste it five miles down the road), this wedge was the most creamy one of my cache. It made me think of eating hazelnuts on a soft blanket. It’s rather mellow with a bright, pleasing finish and a very rich mouthfeel. Note that it’s made from raw milk using the same recipe Mrs. Brickell started with 100 years ago.

Hafod – (top left) From Wales, this pleasure bomb is not really a traditional cheddar because it’s a newbie to the scene, but it shares traditional cheddar traits. And I love it. It’s buttery and brightly acidic, pleasantly crumbly, and earthy — just as a great cheddar should be. If you like Alpine cheeses, try this one as it’s a bit of a hybrid.

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If you live in Philadelphia: My pals at Di Bruno Bros. are on a cheddar bender with a lovely discount until October 8. They were kind enough to share samples with me for this post as they know I have a cheddar problem. Don’t forget, I embarked on a cheddar odyssey two Octobers ago with Cheese Journeys (next one is May 3rd, 2018). You can relive my previous cheddar posts and pairing ideas for cheddar right here.

 

 

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