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In the UK cheese world, the word ‘artisan’ and its use is not protected, therefore making things a little tricky. Real artisan Cheddar is largely made by hand using a single herd’s milk, or bought from a trusted farm. This includes adding the cultures and rennet, cutting the curds, salting, pressing, and wrapping the cheeses in cotton muslin. Each cheesemaker will have their own unique Cheddar recipe, some going back hundreds of years.
If you join in with the Great British Cheddar Challenge GBCC (a six-cheese blind online tasting on 16th September) you will be amazed how different artisan Cheddar tastes - largely due to the terroir and aspect from which the cows graze. The biome of the ageing rooms is totally unique to the cheesemakers, with each carrying its own characteristics. Just like a fingerprint is unique to every one of us, so the same is true of artisan Cheddars. Let me explain the differences.
Artisan Cheddar is more often made with raw milk. This helps to give each handmade cheese its unique identity. Every batch will be wonderfully different according to the cow’s diet and lactation cycle, and the biome where the cheese is aged.
Block Cheddar is made on a huge scale. Imagine an artisan producer that makes circa 150 tonnes of cheese a year. In comparison to an industrial block Cheddar factory that can easily produce more than 200 tonnes of cheese a day.
Block Cheddar is pasteurised, as the milk comes from many sources. This reduces the depth of flavour, which is clearly present in artisan varieties. Often block Cheddar uses other cultures not associated with true artisan Cheddar production to give a sweeter taste.
Artisan producers will often have their own herd of dairy cows, or buy milk from a good local dairy. Industrial block Cheddar producers will have milk delivered from hundreds of dairies up and down the country and even from overseas.
Cheese vats used in factories are generally closed and contain thousands of litres of milk. Some giant vats contain as much as 30,000lts.
Artisan producers use open vats that are sized according to the yield of their herd. Sizes of artisan vats generally range from 200-5000lts. The size will only mirror the milk yield of their herd, or the local milk sourced. Industrial closed vats are mechanised, reducing human intervention. Open vats used in artisan production allow producers to see the milk and work it by hand.
Block Cheddar is cut into large blocks and aged in vacuum packs. This is done to avoid wastage. It gives each product a uniformed taste with, I think, little character. Artisan Cheddar, though, is generally aged in cloth, with a fat coating the cheese. There is natural shrinkage, giving a unique rind micro flora, leading to a complexed paste.
Artisan producers encapsulate the biodiversity of their flora and fauna in each cheese. This is done by careful land and animal management. True artisan Cheddar producers will only use sustainable and ethical methods. Their hard work shows itself in the quality and taste of the cheese produced – with a full, complex flavour that is expressive and keeps giving. Artisan raw milk Cheddar can naturally contain probiotics great for our own micro biome. Pasteurised block Cheddar does not contain probiotics although occasionally they can be added.
Block Cheddar has less length on the palate and depth of flavour. The milk used is pasteurised and normally from numerous farms.
Learn more! Join The Great British Cheddar Challenge on 16th September at 7pm with host and funny man, Marcus Brigstocke. You can buy tickets through various retailers or here.