Cheddar cheese is a relatively hard, pale yellow to off-white (unless artificially coloured), and sometimes sharp-tasting, cheese. Originating in the English village of Cheddar in Somerset, cheeses of this style are produced beyond this region and in several countries around the world.
The style is the most popular cheese in the United Kingdom, accounting for 51 percent of the country's £1.9 billion annual cheese market, and the second most popular cheese in the United States, behind mozzarella, with an average annual consumption of 10 lb (4.5 kg) per capita. The United States produced 3,233,380,000 lb (1,443,470 long tons; 1,466,640 tonnes) in 2010, and the UK 258,000 long tons (262,000 tonnes) in 2008. The name "Cheddar cheese" is widely used and has no Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) within the European Union, but only Cheddar produced from local milk within four counties of South West England may use the name "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar."
The cheese originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, South West England. Cheddar Gorge on the edge of the village contains a number of caves, which provided the ideal humidity and constant temperature for maturing the cheese. Cheddar cheese traditionally had to be made within 30 miles (48 km) of Wells Cathedral.Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. A pipe roll of King Henry II from 1170 records the purchase of 10,240 lb (4,640 kg) at a farthing per pound (totaling £10.13s.4d., about £10.67 in decimal currency). Charles I (1600–1649) also bought cheese from the village. Romans may have brought the recipe to Britain from the Cantal region of France.
Following a wheat midge outbreak in Canada in the mid-nineteenth, farmers in the province of Ontario began to covert to diary farming in large numbers, and cheddar cheese was their main exportable product (before electric refrigeration was invented), even being exported back the cheese’s country of origin, England. By the turn of the twentieth century there were 1,242 cheddar factories in Ontario, and cheddar had become Canada’s second largest export behind timber. Cheddar exports totalled 234,000,000 pounds (106,000,000 kg) in 1904, but by 2012, Canada was a net importer of cheese, and a manufactured cheese product "Kraft Dinner" macaroni and cheese had become Canada's most popular grocery product and de facto national dish. James Lewis Kraft grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario, before moving to Chicago. As writer Sarah Champman writes, "Although we cannot wholly lay the decline of cheese craft in Canada at the feet of James Lewis Kraft, it did correspond with the rise of Kraft’s processed cheese empire."
The ideal quality of the original Somerset Cheddar was described by Joseph Harding in 1864 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".
Cheddar, made in the classical way, tends to have a sharp, pungent flavour, often slightly earthy. Its texture is firm, with farmhouse traditional Cheddar being slightly crumbly; it should also, if mature, contain large crystals of calcium lactate – often precipitated when matured for times longer than six months. Real Cheddar is never "soapy", in texture or mouthfeel, and tends to be more brittle than other types of cheeses.
Cheddar is usually a deep to pale yellow (off-white) colour, but food colourings are sometimes used in industrial varieties of Cheddar style cheeses. One commonly used example is annatto, extracted from seeds of the tropical achiote tree. The largest producer of industrial Cheddar style cheese in the United States, Kraft, uses a combination of annatto and oleoresin paprika, an extract of the lipophilic (oily) portion of paprika. Coloured Cheddar-style cheese has long been sold, but even as early as 1860, the real reason for this was unclear: Joseph Harding stated "to the cheese consumers of London who prefer an adulterated food to that which is pure I have to announce an improvement in the annatto with which they compel the cheesemakers to colour the cheese". According to David Feldman, an author of trivia books, "The only reason why cheesemakers colour their product is because consumers seem to prefer it".
Cheddar cheese was sometimes (and still can be found) packaged in black wax, but was more commonly packaged in larded cloth, which was impermeable to contaminants, but still allowed the cheese to "breathe", although this practice is now limited to artisan cheese makers.
The Slow Food Movement has created a Cheddar Presidium, claiming that only three cheeses should be called "Cheddar". Their specifications, which go further than the West Country farmhouse Cheddar Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), require that Cheddar cheese be made in Somerset and with traditional methods, such as using raw milk, traditional animal rennet, and a cloth wrapping.
Notable Cheddar cheeses include "Quickes", which in 2009 was awarded cheese of the year by the British Cheese Association, "Keen's", with a strong tang, "Montgomery's", with an apple aftertaste. An example of a cheese, made in the style of a traditional Cheddar in Lincolnshire, is Lincolnshire Poacher.