Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar
Cheddar is one of the most popular cheeses in the world—and, as you know, has a wide range of textures and flavours. Unlike cheeses such as Stilton or Taleggio, it is not a protected name; cheddar refers to a method (by which curds are cut into blocks and stacked in inverted piles, which changes the acidity of the curds and thus the flavour) more than an origin, but even then, there are many cheeses that are called cheddars that do not use that process. Some are bound in cloth and waxed (sometimes with lard)—PEI’s own Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar follows that method; others are extruded mechanically into blocks and tend to have a creamier texture (and just to show the difference, Cows’ Extra-Old Cheddar, made by the same company and cheesemaker as Avonlea Clothbound, is one such). There is a British 1966 Codex of Trading Standards that states that cheddars must be under 39% moisture, and that’s it for official standards.
However, Cheddar does have an origin—the Cheddar Gorge and the town of Cheddar in Somerset, in fact—and people are still making traditional cheddars there. There is a ‘West Country’ PDO (“Protected Designation of Origin”), ensuring protection for cheddars made in the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall … but there are a number of artisanal cheddar producers who do not feel that the PDO has an appropriate standard, and have formed their own.
Wookey Hole is a well-known cave in Somerset, currently owned by a former ringmaster and circus owner, which was and has once more become a traditional aging and storage place for cheese some four hundred (and likely many more) years ago. The caves are the ideal temperature for maturing cheese (about 11 degrees C, with high humidity). The cheeses are made in Dorset by Ford Farm on the Ashley Chase estate (and do have the PDO), and matured in the caves for about a year. They are wrapped in cloth and brushed with lard to protect the wheels as they mature (the cloths are removed prior to transport).
The flavours are nutty and round with a slight edge characteristic of a medium-aged cheddar. Try it with a cider or an English ale. Cheddars are a great cooking cheese, of course, delicious with everything from pickled onions to apple pie.