FOOD: Cheese Whiz on Cheddar

July 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

BY Christrianna Sargent

Special to Falls Church Times

July 15, 2011

Imagine a world without cheese. Visit Whole Foods without sorting through towers of cheddar looming over wrinkly, ashen pyramids of fermented goat’s milk. Picture the empty cases once laden with downy-soft, ivory disks of soft-ripened, creamy bliss. Balk at the Farmer’s Markets scarce of cheesemakers, tranquility fractured by haunting echoes of vast silence supplied by cheese dearth.  Envision a world lacking in magic from the absence of wine and cheese pairings; the ultimate sanction suffered from cheese coiffures gone dry. Too heavy a burden the world would bear…Oh Cheese, forever would I lament you, a world of senseless whirling gone awry.

Drastic measures of which I speak, exaggerated with descriptive language I admit. But, truly, cheese industrialization almost put farmhouse cheddars out to pasture. The ravages of the Second World War devastated the British cheese industry and paved the path for tons of mass-produced American Cheddar to fill the bellies of Americans and Brits alike. Few men remained to pass on age-old cheesemaking traditions. A country once blessed with 15,000 cheesemakers crafting “territorial” cheeses was left with 126 farmhouse cheesemakers.  The British were not alone. America experienced the same plight. Flooded by European immigrants in the 1800s, America feared the population’s food demands would outpace the slow, local process of cheese production. In 1877, John Jossi, a Wisconsin cheesemaker of Swiss origin, developed a process to emulate English Cheddar by using two bricks to squeeze fresh curd, resulting in a firm, more rubbery cheese ideal for cutting. The process quickly inspired Britain’s Ministry of Food to rule all excess milk be used to make fast-cultivating “National Cheese.”

By the 1970s, farmhouse cheddar was all but forgotten. Large companies stamped out most small co-operatives as cheese became a commodity to be distributed as cheaply and efficiently as possible to supply the increasing number of supermarkets. Where had all the cheddars gone? Millions only knew cheddar as the orange or white, Velveeta-like, manufactured cheese, sterilized and standardized. But, the Vietnam War partnered with the hippie movement sparked the dawn of a new age. A generation of people, who harbored aspirations to shrug off the disillusioned world, decided to lay testimony to the rural, farm life. Cheese was to be revolutionized.


On July 17th at Red, White & Bleu, another session of Cheese Boot Camp forges ahead with a close-up view on the history of British farmhouse cheddars and today’s movement to revitalize artisanal and farmstead cheesemaking. This educational tasting session will expose American supermarket shelves as the bearer of ready-to-go shredded or sliced Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby and Swiss processed cheese, marketed as “fresh” by the power of preservatives. Pique your senses with the opposite of factory flavors ranging from bland to sharp and venture into farmstead flavor including caramellike, fruity, nutty, tangy, grassy, and spicy.

Cheddar production dates back to the medieval times, and the name itself is no longer associated with a village in southwest England’s Somerset County. Rather, the name refers to a technique and is not a protected designation of origin. Cheddaring is a process by which the curds are pressed and stacked resulting in a characteristically smooth, firm, tight texture of Cheddar. Everything Cheddar will be discussed Sunday, July 17th at Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop at our 1pm and 3pm reservation openings. Seven farmstead cheeses will be tasted from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Plus, seven wines that pair classically with Cheddar will be sampled. Call the shop at 703.533.9463 to reserve your spot, and anticipate finishing the course as a true Cheese Whiz on Cheddar.

Christrianna Sargent is a Certified Wine Sommelier and you can visit her blog at: