Why You Should Be Eating More Cheddar

1. Montgomery’s Cheddar; 2. Cellars at Jasper Hill Cabot Cloth-Bound Cheddar; 3. Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar; 4. Shelburne Farms 2-Year Cheddar Brick Cheese; 5. Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle Photo: F. Martin Ramin/ The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Tia Keenan

FOR OVER 150 YEARS cheddar was the most popular cheese in the U.S. It sustained colonists and Civil War soldiers, and was the foundation for the industrial innovation of processed “American” cheese. Only recently was cheddar demoted to second place in overall consumption, usurped by that ubiquitous pizza-topper, mozzarella. Though English in origin, cheddar has been part of the American experience from the very start, and today some of this country’s best cheese makers are turning out better cheddar than ever before.

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Cheddaring, the stacking of blocks of drained curds to extract more whey, creates a sturdy curd suited to aging. After shedding moisture, the curds are milled into smaller pieces, salted, pressed into molds and aged from several months to years. Commodity cheddar is a publicly traded product whose destiny is frozen food, pre-shredded packs and economy supermarket wedges; specialty cheddar, made on a small scale and sold primarily at cheese counters and gourmet stores, is often preserved in wax or clothbound (wrapped in cotton cloth and rubbed with oil or lard).

The roots of industrial cheese making sprouted in the mid-19th century, when collectivist farmers pooled raw materials, consolidated labor and created the first cheese factory in this country. Later, with mass production, processed cheese came to define our cheese culture. But with the artisan revival of the late 1970s, American cheese makers embraced tradition, giving rise to new farmstead cheddars—made on the same farm as the milking herd—and, generally, cheeses of integrity and quality. In the mid-2000s, a pioneering partnership between Jasper Hill Farm, a scrappy team of small-batch cheese makers, and Cabot Creamery, a large historic cooperative, raised the profile of clothbound cheddar, introducing better cheeses and building a market for them. There’s something plainly hopeful about reinventing the wheel, and makers of American cheddar have done it yet again. Check out the list at right if you’d like to enjoy the upshot.

5 CHOICE CHEDDARS, MOSTLY AMERICAN

1. Montgomery’s Cheddar We include this classic clothbound cheddar from one of the great British producers as the best possible touchstone for the style. Relish the savory roast beef notes. $36 a pound, dibruno.com

2. Cellars at Jasper Hill Cabot Cloth-Bound Cheddar The fruit of a partnership between Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Creamery, this nutty and fruity cheese is at the center of the artisanal American cheddar revival. $36 a pound, saxelbycheese.com

3. Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar An earthy Wisconsin cheddar made by cult cheesemaker Willi Lehner. $35 a pound, formaggiokitchen.com

4. Shelburne Farms 2-Year Cheddar Brick Cheese A fruity cheese from a Vermont farm founded by a Vanderbilt descendant. $18 a pound, saxelbycheese.com

5. Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle A grassy, piquant cheddar from Missouri. $33 a pound, murrayscheese.com

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