Cheddar Cheese Making Recipe
In addition to making your own Cheddar, you will learn why there are so many different varieties around the world and understand the history of this fantastic cheese.
Since we have tasted a lot of cheddar, and made many variations, we're able to give you our favorite recipe. It is the one we make ourselves, and the one Jim makes when you attend our 201 workshops.
- 3 Gallons of Milk (Not UltraPasteurized) - If using raw milk decrease culture by 25-40%
- 1 Packet C101 Mesophilic Culture
- 3 ml (a bit over 1/2 tsp) Single Strength Liquid Rennet
- 1/2 tsp (2.5ml) Calcium Chloride (for pasteurized milk)
- Good Thermometer
- Knife to Cut Curds
- Spoon or Ladle to Stir Curds
- Large Colander
- Medium Hard Cheese Mold
- Butter Muslin
- Cheese Press or Weights
- Cheese Wax or Cloth for aging
- Brush for Waxing
- Cheddar Cheese Info
- Q & A
A Recipe for Cheddar Cheese
I usually make this cheese with 6 gallons of raw milk because the larger size tends to ripen more effectively, while reducing the amount of moisture loss, due to a better ratio of mass to surface area. However, for the home cheese maker this volume of milk can be a lot to work with. So, I'm providing a 3 gallon recipe below using a good quality pasteurized milk.
The pictures with the guideline below will be for the larger cheese though and you should be able to increase the size to a 6 gallon batch by doubling the rennet and culture.
Heat & Acidify Milk
Begin by heating milk to 86F. A water bath using a pot in your sink will be the most stable way to do this. You can just add a bit of boiling water from your tea kettle to make sure the water bath remains at temperature. You can heat the milk right in the sink if you use a couple of changes of VERY hot water.
If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.
As you can see in the picture here, I use a pot inside a bigger pot, and a burner under that to control my water bath temperature. Thermometers in both the milk and water bath will help in controlling temperatures
Once the milk is at 86F, the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
The milk now needs to be kept at this target temperature for 90 minutes to allow the culture to begin working. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.
Coagulate with Rennet
Once your milk and culture have ripened, add about 3/4 tsp of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk then needs to sit quiet for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. You should note that the milk begins to thicken at about 18 minutes (between 15-20 minutes is a range you should work to).
You should be able to see this change by pressing on the milk surface and noting a change in tension. However do not cut yet. The milk needs to sit quiet the full 45 minutes. It needs the rest of this time to firm up well and make a good curd before cutting.
The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. Do not heat the milk during this time because it needs to sit undisturbed.
When the milk has turned into a solid curd that is ready to cut, you should be able to test and see a simple clean break as shown above.
Cut Curd & Release Whey
The next step will be to cut the curds to 1/2-3/4 inch pieces, depending on the moisture you want in the final cheese. The smaller the curds, the drier the cheese and the longer it will take to age. Make the cuts by first making vertical cuts in two directions at right angles with a long knife and then using a flat ladle cut horizontally. Try not to break the curds too small while doing this.
Once the curd have been cut as close to your target size as possible (they will shrink as they cook) allow them to rest for about 5 minutes, with no stirring, while the surface hardens a little.
The next step will be to begin a SLOW stir for about 10-15 minutes, the curds are still very fragile. Bring the curds back to 86F at this time if they have cooled. This is to firm the curds well enough to keep them intact during the scald, or cooking phase, that comes next.
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 102F. The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3-5F every 5 minutes at the beginning. The total cooking time will be about 30 minutes
Then stir another 30-60 minutes, until the curd is firm. This may be extended if the curds are still soft.
The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.
If the curds are not dry enough, they will carry moisture which contains Lactose forward into the pressing and aging stage. This will show up as leaking cheeses, as the acid continues to develop, and a very chalky and acid tasting cheese. A simple test that I always show in my workshop classes here is the 'Grip Test'. A small hand full of cheese is gathered and firmly pressed in the hand to consolidate the curds. Then with moderate pressure of the thumb, they should easily separate. If they tend to cling or stick together, stir for a little longer.
When the curds seem dry enough, they can be allowed to settle under the whey for a few minutes, then begin to remove whey down to within 1-2 inches above the curd mass.
Draining & Cheddaring
My process here involves the use of two pans, one with holes and the other without so that the initial curd transfer is with curds and enough whey to cover them. I line the pan with holes with draining cloth and place that pan inside the one without holes (see the pics). If you are using a colander for the draining simply place it in another larger pan
When the curds are transferred along with the residual whey to the draining pan, the curds should be fully covered with the whey. This arrangement allows for a thorough stirring to make sure any clumps are broken up and the curds allowed to float under the whey into their most compact form. This step will minimize any mechanical holes in the bed of curds. This step should take about 10 -15 minutes, then the cloth should be folded over and tightened around the curd and all of the whey can be drained.
This is the beginning of the cheddaring phase, but the cheese at this point has not developed it's final acid. It will need to be kept warm (85-90F) and turned at 15-30 minute intervals for the next 2-3 hours. The actual amount of time depends on the draining and acid development. During this time, more whey will be draining, and the taste of the whey will change from just slightly sweet as in milk, to a very neutral and even slightly acid flavor but avoid developing too much acid. After about 1 hour cut the curd mass in half and stack the two halves with the drain cloth separating them.I also add a board on top of the draining curds with about 8 lbs of weight. This will emulate the larger slab mass of the larger producers.
During this time the curds will begin to change shape due to changes in the protein structure. It is quite related to what also happens in the mozzarella stretching phase. As the warm curd develops more acid during cheddaring, calcium (responsible for binding the proteins) is washed from the curd by the draining whey, leaving a weaker bond between proteins. You will notice that the curds at the beginning of the cheddaring process were much more cubic or round, but if you tear the slabs at the end they will be much more elongated and the slabs will have flattened out considerably. This is all a large part of what cheddar is about.
Milling & Salting Curds
At this point you will have the final curd ready for pressing BUT another unique aspect of the Cheddar is that the dryness and acid have both reached close to their desired level and should not be allowed to continue. If relying on brining or dry salting the surface of the cheese, the acid would continue to increase causing a very wet and acid cheese.
If at this point the curd is too wet, the residual lactose may still be enough to trigger a late fermentation and result in leaking cheese and a very acid and chalky final cheese.
If the curd is too dry, it will be difficult to consolidate and will take much longer to age.
The curd mass is broken into small pieces about thumb to walnut size, and salt is then added at the rate of 2% of cheese salt to the weight of the fresh curds.
If the curd weighs 3lbs (48 oz), 2% would be .96oz of salt.
About 0.5% will wash away as the salt pulls moisture from the curd, leaving about 1.5% in the finished cheese. To best keep the salt from hardening the curd surface, and thus limiting moisture expulsion, add salt in 3 stages over 15-20 minutes to allow each addition to pull whey and form its own brine.
Forming & Pressing
Once the curds have been salted, line the form with a sanitized press cloth and pack the curds firmly into the mold.
For pressing, we should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:
- 1 hour at 20 lbs
- 1 hour at 20 lbs
- 4 hour at 40 lbs
- 24 hours at 50-75 lbs (depending on how well the consolidation is working)
The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, re-wrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals, to ensure an even consolidation.
Pressing will not solve problems of a curd that is too moist. Only the free unbound moisture will be released during this phase.
The rate of whey running off is simply a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops you can increase the weight slightly. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.
If at the end of the press cycle, the curd is not fully consolidated, return to the press for more time and add a bit more press weight.
If still not consolidated after pressing, the cheese curds were too dry. In the next batch, do less stirring, perhaps for less time. Also, cutting the curds larger will make a moister cheese.
Prepare for Aging
With the well pressed cheddar you have two choices, either waxed or cloth bound. Due to the dryness of the curd at molding, a natural rind will fail as the surface is likely to develop cracks as the curd boundaries dehydrate.
The cheese can be dried for a few days and then waxed. All of our details for this are on our Waxing Page.
- Easiest way to maintain moisture.
- Requires little attention during aging.
- Limited movement through the waxed surface.
- Messy to apply and clean up.
- Requires constant attention to temperature, as wax can easily reach it's flash point if left unattended.
Wrapping in Cloth
This is the most traditional way of maintaining the surface of a cheddar. This is still the method used for the ""West Country"" Cheddars, as well as many of the newer cloth bound Cheddars in America.
- This covering provides fine support for the surface, but allows moisture and gas to pass as needed.
- The final cheese tends to be much more complex in both aroma and flavor.
- Once the cloth is applied, the cheese is protected and a natural mold surface adds to the protection and complexity, and little aging attention is required.
- When fully ripe, the mold can be brushed away, the cloth removed and a perfectly clean rind is revealed.
- It takes a bit longer to apply.
The cloth is applied with the help of lard as a binder. The cloth is soaked in lard, rung out and applied to the surface, and then pressed 24 hours to embed the cloth right into the surface.
I know that many will groan at the thought of lard, but there is no need to use that white block from the store. It is very easy to obtain a piece of back fat and heat it to render your own lard. It can be kept refrigerated for quite some time.
All of the details for applying the cloth binding are on our Bandaging Cheddar page.
The cheese is now ready to be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
The only maintenance required is to turn the cheese every week to keep the moisture even.
The waxed cheese should remain mold free if done correctly and fully sealed.
The bandaged cheese will develop a beautiful surface of grey-white-blue mold naturally over time. This acts as a filter for what comes and goes and can be left alone other than turning occasionally.
You may want to keep it separated from other cheeses that are developing selected natural rinds, but I age mine right with my other natural rind cheeses... no problem.
Age for 3-9 months (or longer) depending on cheese moisture. The drier the cheese, the longer it can be aged and the more complex it becomes.
Our Favorite Cheddar Cheese Recipe
Throughout the world, there always seems to be some form of Cheddar available, so we all should know Cheddar, but do we?
English, Canadian, Vermont, New York, Wisconsin, California, New Zealand; we do find that they are all quite different.
in this recipe we will look at why they are all so different, and dip into the extensive history of Cheddar.
So how did I choose which methods to share with you? Pretty simple; since I have tasted a lot of cheddar in my time here, and have made a lot of variations, I will give you the Cheddar guideline I like the best. The one I make for myself, and the one we will make if you come to my workshops here.
And making what you like is the best reason to make your own cheese.
Different Varities of Cheddar Cheese
Cheddar comes in many colors, textures, and degrees of moisture. Some of it is just plain comfort food, while others really make you stand up and pay attention. There is NO DESIGNATION for what Cheddar should be,so throughout the world there are many cheeses that answer to the name of "Cheddar." Welcome to the variations of Cheddar.
We have the wonderful "West Country" cloth bound cheddar, that is likely closest to the original Cheddar.
There's also the orange and white varieties that seem to be tied to specific regions, all with different levels of moisture, texture and flavor.
Throughout the world the many variations from each region tend to show their own characteristics.
- Wisconsin: sweeter and creamier
- Vermont: tangy, somewhat bitter, and sharp cheddar.
- Clothbound Cheddar: reflects the traditional English style cheddar. More complex and a bit more mellow. The cloth allows for a cheese that is more open to the cave environment and thus more complex. I do remember tasting 2 cheeses taken from the same Vat run and aged as Block vs Bandaged. The complexity of the Block aged Cheddar was much less than that of the Bandaged Cheddar due to their closed surfaces.
The History of Cheddar Cheese
Cheese making in Britain goes back as far as the time of the Celts. Cheddar cheese records are found as far back as the 12 century. The name Cheddar comes from the Old English word ceodor, meaning deep, dark cavity, or pouch. As most other cheese, Cheddar evolved from a need to preserve the very perishable milk, from times of plenty, to those of scarcity. It is largely believed that the Romans occupying France, and then into present day UK and Somerset, brought the craft of cheese making with them.
Early Cheddar was originally produced solely on the farms (mostly by the farmers wife, but that's another story) centered around the Somerset region in Southwest Britain.
Cheddar was originally part of a larger group of smaller cheeses intended for local consumption and all characterized by their locale and milk quality. The production was centered around the town of Cheddar, and its famous Gorge riddled with caves, that may have been used for aging.
Cheddar was the most famous of these cheeses, and records show that much of it was bought and paid for even before the cows were milked.
Most of this went to the Royal Courts, and at times Cheddar was unobtainable unless you were associated with the "Royals".
It wasn't until well into the 1600s that transportation technology improved via many canals and river systems, as well as improved wagon roads. This helped to move the cheese to market towns and more urban areas, especially to the growing market in the larger cities such as London. By then, the breaking up of the manor farms, and the effects of the industrial revolution, were big factors in the population migration and growth in these larger urban centers. Eventually in the 1700s, when the railroad improved transportation, these population dynamics and growing urban areas began to force changes in the cheese being made. The need for drier cheeses to undergo longer aging, and the need for larger, sturdier cheeses to withstand travel and storage, were apparent. The earlier cheeses were too moist and could not withstand the longer market time of several months; they would simply be too difficult to handle and suffer during the long transport and market delays involved. The cheeses would simply rot or fall apart during the longer cycle. The decreasing population in the countryside made it absolutely necessary to change the way cheese was being made.
As the markets improved, and the population increased, there was a greater need to increase cheese production for these growing markets. Of course, this meant there was also a need for larger herds and more efficient production in cheese country. For Cheddar, these changes came fast. One of the biggest changes was making much larger cheeses, but these needed to be made drier to prevent internal decay. Initially, it was the solved by scalding the curd mass with hot whey, in a separate draining vessel, and this became what is now known as the "cheddaring" stage. This process would become much updated by the mid 1800s.
As these changes took hold in Britain, the emigration to the new colonies in America and Canada also included the cheese makers of Britain. Cheddar style cheese was already being made in America.
Changes going into the industrialized period of the 1800s
It was not until the mid 19th century that cheddar took on it's current standardized character. Up until that time, the smaller cheddar production was quite varied, with a broad range of qualities, from totally sub-standard cheese (high moisture with limited aging, gas development, unclean ferments and gas, as well as maggots, yum!) to the cleaner, high quality special cheeses, reserved for royalty.
It was in the mid 1800s, that Joseph Harding brought new standards of sanitation. Up until then, many cheeses were low in quality, due to lack of sanitation and standardized fermentation. Harding's newer methods were then adapted by cheese makers in North America' as well as Scotland. It was also his sons that introduced the newer standardized cheddar to Australia and New Zealand. Harding defined the new character of the cheese as "close and firm in texture, yet mellow in character or quality; it is rich with a tendency to melt in the mouth, the flavour full and fine, approaching to that of a hazelnut."
Salting the Curds, and Cheddaring
Harding's new methods also introduced the salting of the curds before molding, as well as a modification of the cheddaring process. In his modification, the curds were actually cooked in the same vat as they were coagulated in, then transferred to a separate table where the they were drained and cut into large slabs, then stacked as they continued to develop acid. They were then rendered into smaller pieces and direct salted before forming and pressing. This is the cheddaring process as we know it today. ***NOTE: These steps of slabbing and breaking of the curds, and salting before forming, had already been going on for a long time before it was employed in the Cheddar region in the mountains of central France in the region of Salers and Cantel, as it still is today. However, in a slightly different manner.
The American Cheddar Cheese Factory
It was also at this same time (1851) that the Jesse Williams family, in upstate New York, developed the first production cheese factory in America (it seems Cheddars time had come). This was the point at which milk began to be sourced from many farms and made by a cooperative of trained cheese makers. This was also the point when men took over from the women.
Needless to say, this proved to be a huge leap in production of cheese, but eventually became the undoing of hand made cheese in America. In less than a hundred years, the small farm cheese makers practically disappeared.This was also the direction for British Cheddar.
While James L Kraft grew up on a Dairy farm in Ontario, he moved to Chicago and from there we know the rest. Kraft slices are certainly not what Cheddar is all about.
US and Canada Export to Britain
The late 19th century in Britain saw the rapid development of the rail network, allowing for the easy transportation of perishable goods, like milk. Farmers that had previously viewed cheese as a way to preserve the value of their milk came to view cheese making as an expensive and time-consuming pursuit. Rapid transit of goods around the country also had the effect of broadening the range of cheeses available to consumers, including cheaper imports of cheddar from North America. Many farmhouse producers could not compete with these lower prices and moved away from cheese making.
This, along with the rapidly growing population of Britain, led to a short supply of good cheese, prompting their government to lower the tariff. thus opening the Cheddar market to America and Canada. Between 1840 and 1861, New York exports to Britain increased from just over 700,000 pounds to 40 Million pounds; that's a 5700% increase! By 1913, over 80% of cheese consumed in the UK was imported
New York Export of Cheddar is it's own undoing
This is where things go south. The efficiency of the new cheddar factories, like most today, looked to their bottom line profit. They soon began producing higher moisture cheese for greater yield and skimming the cream to make more high valued butter. The wet cheese did not age well, and the skimming of cream, of course, is where much of the flavor and smooth texture lie. It did not take long for the British to realize the changes made in the cheese.
In addition, the factories in America began replacing that stolen cream with Oleomargarine (AKA Beef Fat) and these soon became known as filled cheese. They were still falsely being marketed as Full Cream Cheddar Cheese. They seemed fine for a short while, but then the lard oxidized and became rancid. Within a few years, this trade, that provided 148 Million pounds of Cheddar in 1881, had totally collapsed. On the other hand, Canada maintained its higher quality of drier and more flavorful cheese, and continued their lucrative trade. Britain turned also to imported Cheddar from Australia and New Zealand to fill the gap. By the late 1890s, laws had already been written to right the wrongs of skimmed milk and filled Cheddars.
20th Century: The Undoing of the British Cheddar
The first half of the 20th century brought further hardship, as two world wars caused considerable disruption, both through the removal of manpower from the rural economy, and later through the introduction of rationing, which forced producers to standardize their cheese production with the 1933 creation of the Milk Marketing Board (MMB). Of the 514 farms making cheese in the Southwest of England in 1939, only 57 were still in production when the Second World War ended in 1945.
This trend towards streamlining production, and away from diversity, has continued to the present day, and much of the knowledge of cheddar-making accumulated through centuries of practice has disappeared.
Production of Cheddar cheese skyrocketed in England during WWII, not because of the good circumstances, but because of the need of English government to better stockpile their milk. The majority of milk was transformed into what was called “government cheddar” that was rationed to the people all around the country. This had an unfortunate effect of decimating local production of cheddar cheese in England, with 3,400 of cheese producers being shut down, and fewer than 100 remaining after war was over.
The 1980s and Onward with Artisan Cheese Revival
Growing up in the 1950s-70s, my world of cheese was limited to the family jokes about Dad's triple wrapped and well boxed Limburger lurking in the back of the fridge (which of course I did not appreciate then) and the annual trip to Vermont for the best Cheddar ever, with some serious age and those big white crystals (one of the biggest reasons I do what I do today). The state of cheese in the kitchen though, was from the big Yellow Box (I am sure it was yellow) to the big green cylinder for anything Italian. By the late 80s to early 90s, I grew up a tad, just in time to see America wake up a little to what was wrong with cheese. The back to the land movement had cracked open the desire to make real cheese again. This has now grown worldwide into an incredible change in what the quality of cheese can be. It was a little slower than good wine and beer, but the appreciation is still growing. This is not to say really great cheeses totally disappeared during this time because I still find the great cheeses of Switzerland, France, and Italy on the small farms that never went away.
For Cheddar, there is some great small scale Cheddar still being produced, and I have been fortunate enough to learn from the best in Britain. Jamie Montgomery and Val Bines have been the heart of Real Cheddar. Today, in America, we have some amazing Cheddar makers as well, with the likes of Mariano Gonzalez in CA, the Roelli and Hooks family in WI, as well as several producers in Vermont.
Cheddar today is primarily produced as large block commercial production. The name "cheddar" is not protected by the European Union, so it is produced as Cheddar throughout the world.
However, the use of the name "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar" does have protection. Today Cheddar is made in Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Finland and the United States.
55% of all cheese is cheddar
During the mid 19th century, agriculture in Ontario turned from wheat to dairy, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Cheddar cheese became their second largest export after timber. So there is still some good Cheddar produced there, but today most of the great Cheddar comes from Quebec
Much of the Cheddar cheese in New Zealand is factory produced. While most of it is sold young within the country, some New Zealand Cheddars are shipped to the UK, where the blocks mature for another year or so.
The original Cheddars came from the southern cheese country, today collectively called "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar", and includes the counties of Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall. All milk for this cheese must be sourced from these countries. In addition The Slow Food Movement has created a Cheddar Presidium, which goes further than the "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar" PDO, and requires that Cheddar cheese be made in Somerset and with traditional methods, such as using raw milk, traditional animal rennet, and a cloth wrapping.
Today much of UK production is large scale commercial and the cheeses are short aged versions of the original cheese like most of the world cheddar production.
Many states, including California, Idaho, upstate New York, Vermont, Oregon, Texas, and Oklahoma, produce cheddar. It is sold in several varieties (mild, medium, sharp, extra-sharp, New York-style, white, and Vermont). Wisconsin has the largest production. Vermont has gained its own distinction in first class cheese production with Cabot, Grafton Village, and Shelburne Farms.
California has Mariano Gonzalez working for Fiscallini Farms (but then again he came from Shelburne Farms in Vermont). Much of the US production though, is from large expansive factories producing large blocks of short aged cheese, some of which is outstanding.