To many people Cheddar is a humble cheese, more than likely it was the first step taken in the cheese world after graduation from grilled cheese sandwiches made with bleached sliced white bread, Kraft Singles, and a dollop of margarine.
Like many cheeses Cheddar has a story and a birth place, of course these days no one thinks of Cheddar as a regional cheese, everyone and their dog is making Cheddar, some better than others. I give Cracker Barrel Extra Old a passing grade, for a mass produced product it does at least give the taster a vague idea of what Cheddar might taste like. Most ‘store brand’ Cheddar gets a huge fail, bland taste, and a rather icky texture.
Real Cheddar come from small area in the south west of England. Alas the Brits were a little lax in employing the French “Appellation Controlee” designation and so anyone with some milk and rennet was free to call it cheddar.
OK, here is the first revelation, most Cheddar is not the golden color that the supermarket sells. Real Cheddar is mostly white and far more stoic than its supermarket rivals. Real Cheddar does not require a few drops of Red Dye number 4. Real cheese stands alone.
I have a long held theory about cheese in general. Cheese is as good as it is. Good cheese often does not come from large companies, it instead comes from artisan operations.
One of the best Cheddars that have crossed my palette recently comes not from Cheddar Somerset, but the Taw Valley in Devon. Tickler Cheddar is a great addition to any mouth. It (excuse my French) comes with no Bull Shit. It has the color, flavor, texture and everything that you could ask in a Cheddar.
I have said it before, different cheeses need different ‘landing pads’. Cheddar is a bread cheese. Bread, Butter and Cheese join in a glorious harmony.
Good cheddar is a meal. A common lunch in Briritsh Pubs is a Ploughmans Lunch. A hunk of bread, a piece of cheese, butter, and whatever else the inn keeper decides to put on the plate. Personally I rather like Pickled Onions and Branston Pickle. Alas my local Supermarket does not stock either item. Actually they also fall a little short on the bread front. Odd really, New Orleans is famous for its French Bread, the whole Po-Boy industry would collapse without it. The problem with it is it has a soft crust. This can be fixed, hack off of the (large piece) of bread, pre heat the oven to the hotter than hades setting (450-500). Insert bread for 2 minutes. The crust will be crusty and the interior soft and yummy.
I live in a small town, stores come and go, actually they go more than they come. For a while there was a farmers market. It stocked Pickled Onions, it even had Pickled Beets and some great jarred corn relish. All of which would have been great for a Ploughmans Lunch featuring Tickler Cheddar. Needless to say, the store is no more. For a brief while it was a Caribbean Grocery store, they had a great line of stale fried pork skins, and how many Plantains people bought thinking they were Bananas is unknown.
Branston Pickle is also elusive, but I did manage to get a knock off of Sharwoods Major Grey Mango Chutney. Odd really. The real Branston Pickle is made by Cross & Blackwell, the not quite Major Grey was from the same company. Why would my supermarket opt for a Major Grey over Branston? These are strange times that we live in.
Today my wife invited me out on a date. For some reason it seemed a splendid idea to wander around the Dollar Store and Walmart. In Walmart I discovered they have a bakery. Better still I found a batch of French bread fresh from the oven, still warm, and fogging up the wrapper. This is the primary reason that most French bread has a chewy crust. I liberated the loaf from its Walmart oppressors, better still it was only $1!
A hunk of fresh bread, some really fine French butter and the small chunk of Tickler Cheddar, I had a feast fit for a king. I didn’t even bother seeking out the Major Grey.
I watch cooking shows all the time, mostly they consist of using items that no one can buy. “sorry sir, we are out of Beaver tails today” the butcher tells me. The cashier in the supermarket inevitably asks, “is that Parsley or Cilantro”? It goes down hill from there.
One meal that cannot be messed up is Bread and Cheese. No cooking is involved and the ingredient list is really short, Bread, Butter, and Cheese.
Tomorrow I think I will take on the Brie. In the style of a soap opera writer, I will not reveal if I will be using bread or crackers. Brie is a soft cheese, ‘to butter or not to butter’ is the question?