A Wisconsin cheesemaker just discovered a forgotten 40 year old block of cheddar cheese. That's one old cheese! To give you an idea, a mild cheddar is generally aged two to three months, and your average grocery store sharp cheddar is aged about one year, and extra sharp cheddars are aged three to five years. Specialty cheese shops might have 13-15 year old cheddars, but 40 year old cheese might be a new record. The cheese is included in a collection of some of the oldest cheese ever sold according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
What's so special about old cheese, really?
As cheddar cheese matures a few things happen. First, it gets sharper, a sharp cheese is the kind of cheese that when you bite in to it, it bites back. The flavor is prominent and assertive, unlike mild cheeses that have a more subtle flavor.
In addition to the flavor change, the texture also changes. Some aged cheeses develop tiny calcium deposits that form crunchy crystals in the cheese. I like this added texture, but some people don’t. This particular 40 year old cheddar reportedly had an inch worth of calcium deposits on the outside, but the inside was still fairly creamy. Aged cheddar develops a crumbly texture as it gets older, while mild cheddar is on the creamier side.
Sharper isn't necessarily better, it all depends on what you like. The best way to find out what you like is to taste a variety of cheddars of different ages side by side. Stick with cheese from one dairy so you have a fair base for comparison. I recommend Hook's cheddar because they have cheddars that are aged five years or more, and if you’re not near a place that carries Hook's cheddar, you can order it online here.
I used to think the sharper the better, but after preforming this taste test I discovered I prefer cheddars in the three to five year range. I don’t enjoy the older cheddars as much, some of them are so sharp I need to get out the tongue band-aids!
A Note About Cooking with Cheese
If you’re cooking with cheese, like baking it in a casserole or making a pizza, don’t use the expensive artisan cheddar. Artisan cheeses are meant to be savored on their own or maybe with a cracker, some jam or a little fruit. The cooking process changes the texture and you can’t taste the subtleties in the flavor when the cheese is combined with other ingredients. Plus if you walk into a fancy cheese shop and ask for a cheese to put on a pizza they will look at you funny, I know from experience.
What kind of cheddar do you prefer? Mild? Sharp? Extra Sharp?