The Great British Cheddar Challenge – Choosing Artisan Cheddar over Industrial

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A bit of history of Cheddar Cheese

Since the 12th century long paper parchment, known as pipe rolls, were used to keep public records.  In 1155 this method of record keeping became continuously maintained. In 1170 it was recorded that King Henry II ordered 4.6 tonnes at a cost of just over £10 in today’s money! This is the earliest written record of Cheddar cheese.

It is believed to have been found and first made in the Southwest in the village of Cheddar, Somerset.

Keeping it Royal in the 17th century during Charles I reign, Cheddar consumption outweighed production. It could then only be bought through the Royal Court.

1840, Queen Victoria was given 500 kilos of Cheddar as a wedding present.

In 1876 at Vale Court Farm, Marksbury, Somerset, Joseph Harding introduced the definitive formula for cheddar cheese. He invented several modern cheddar production methods including the peg mill for milling the curds.

Robert Falcon Scott AKA Scott of the Antarctic took the equivalent of over 1.6 tonnes of cheddar on his exploration in 1901. Cheddar is favoured by explorers for its good carbohydrates and protein that also helps to keep blood sugar high.

During WW11 Cheese producers were reduced from 3500 to just over 100. Factories produced Government Grade cheddar to help feed a Nation.

Today we are lucky to see a healthy rise in artisan cheese production with some exceptional Cheddar being produced. Although sadly real artisan cheese sales only equate to circa 3% of national cheese sales.

2023 The Great British Cheddar Challenge was founded to encourage people to see the real value in artisan over industrial.

What is Artisan Cheddar and why should we care about it?

Artisan cheddar is not a protected name, so this makes things a little tricky. Real artisan cheddar is made by a cheesemaker using a single herds milk. The cheesemaker may own the cows or buy the milk locally. The process of making the cheese is largely done by hand. This includes adding the cultures, rennet, cutting the curds salting, pressing and wrapping the cheeses in cotton muslin. Each cheesemaker will have their own recipe for making the Cheddar and some recipes will go back hundreds of years.

If you are to compare the 6 cheeses that we will be tasting at the Great British Cheddar Challenge GBCC you will easily find that each cheese is different in taste. This is due to the terroir and aspect from which the cows graze. The biome of the ageing rooms are all totally unique to the cheesemakers and carry their own characteristic. Just like a fingerprint is unique to every one of us so are the true artisan cheesemakers cheeses.

Artisan cheddar is more often made with RAW milk. This helps to give each handmade cheese is unique identity. Every batch will be wonderfully different according to the cows diet and the lactation cycle.

What is the difference between Artisan and Block Cheddar?

Block cheddar is made on a huge scale. Imagine an artisan producer that makes circa 150 tonnes of cheese a year. In comparison an industrial block cheddar factory 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 that artisan clearly has. Often block cheddar using other cultures not associated with true artisan cheddar production to give a sweeter taste.

The true artisan producer will have their own single herd cow’s milk or from a local herd nearby. Industrial block cheddar producers will have milk delivered from hundreds of dairies up and down the country and overseas.

Cheese VATS used in factories are often closed and can contain tens of thousands of litres of milk, sometimes as much as 30,000 litres. Artisan producers use open VATS that are sized according to the yield of their herd. Sizes of VATS generally never exceed 5000ltrs. The VAT’s size will only mirror their herds’ milk yields or locally sourced milk. Industrial closed VATS are completely mechanised, taking out any human intervention. Open VATS used in artisan production are open to see and work the milk by hand.

Block cheddar is cut into large blocks and aged in vacuum packs. This is done to avoid any shrinkage and rind. It gives each block of cheddar a uniform taste with little character. Artisan cheddar is generally aged in cloth with a fat coating the cheese. There is shrinkage and a unique rind development that gives beautiful rich, savoury flavours.

Why does Artisan Cheddar taste different to Block Cheddar?

It is in the interest of the Artisan producer to make a product that encapsulates the biodiversity of their flora and fauna. 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. The cheese has a full complex flavour that is expressive and keeps giving. Artisan RAW milk Cheddar can additionally contain probiotics that are brilliant for our gut health. Pasteurised block cheddar does not contain probiotics, although this can be added occasionally.

Block cheddar has a shorter flavour. It does not show the flora and flora of where the milk is sourced, as it is made with milk from numerous farms and is pasteurised.

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Get involved in The Great British Cheddar Challenge 2023

If you love nothing more than the taste of artisan cheese, No2 Pound Street warmly invites you to participate in The Great British Cheddar Challenge 2023. An online blind tasting of six carefully chosen cheddars, we ask you to vote for our favourite cheese. The winning artisan cheddar will be selected from “the People’s Choice” – the most favoured cheese from the six tasted. Each cheddar will be wrapped and numbered. You only need to order your cheese and join the online tasting. Participants will be given a link to a formatted tasting sheet. This will be used to professionally assess each cheddar with the expert cheese panel and producers.

To get involved in The Great British Cheddar Challenge 2023, reserve your tasting box immediately to ensure you are guaranteed a space. Your cheese box will be delivered from 11th September, and the event will be hosted online from 19:00(GMT) on the 16th of September. Voting will be requested on the day during the live event.