Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thursday, Montgomery's Cheddar

Cheddar was born in Somerset county, in south western England. Unlike Stilton, which protected its name, cheddar's name got loose in the world. It has been used to brand hundreds of copycats. But they're like shades of the original, haunting the edges of the earth. Today there are only three farms making traditional cheddar. That is to say, cheddar from a herd of cows located on same farm where it's made, unpasteurized milk, traditional animal rennet, hand-formed in 25 kilo forms, wrapped in cloth, larded, aged at least twelve months. They are Keen's, Westcombe, Montgomery's. I visited Keen's and Montgomery's, our regular cheddar.

Some jargon. Cheddar is the name of a cheese and the name of a particular process that makes cheddar what it is. After the rennet creates curds and before the curds are milled there is cheddaring. The mass of curds — a big, rubbery, gelatinous blob — is cut in the vat, stacked, flipped and stacked some more. The stacked weight, sloped against the vat, stretches the curd. It also squeezes out whey and increases acidity. When everything is right, an hour or two later, the texture of the curd is like cooked chicken breast. They're also very tasty, some of the best cheese curds I've eaten. It was hard to stop nibbling on them.

Some trivia. Montgomery cheddar cows graze on a hill that most scholars agree was the location of Camelot. I asked Jamie Montgomery, the owner, if that's true. With typical British dryness he replied, "Yes. We own Camelot."

Photos of a cheddar as it ages.

Next stop: London.

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