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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.

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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.[3] The United States produced 3,233,380,000 lb (1,443,470 long tons; 1,466,640 tonnes) in 2010,[4] 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.

Central to the modernisation and standardisation of cheddar cheese was the nineteenth century Somerset dairyman Joseph Harding. For his technical developments, promotion of dairy hygiene and unremunerated propagation of modern cheese-making techniques he has been described as the father of cheddar cheese.[10] Harding introduced new equipment into the process of cheese making, including his "revolving breaker" for curd cutting, saving much manual effort. The "Joseph Harding method" was the first modern system for cheddar production based upon scientific principles. Harding stated that cheddar cheese is "not made in the field, nor in the byre, nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy". He and his wife were behind the introduction of the cheese into Scotland and North America. Joseph Harding's sons, Henry and William Harding, were responsible for introducing cheddar cheese production to Australia and facilitating the establishment of the cheese industry in NewZealand respectively.

During World War II, and for nearly a decade after the war, most milk in Britain was used for the making of one single kind of cheese nicknamed "Government cheddar" as part of war economies and rationing. This nearly resulted in wiping out all other cheese production in the country. Before World War I there were more than 3,500 cheese producers in Britain, while fewer than 100 remained after the Second World War.

The curds and whey are separated using rennet, an enzyme complex normally produced from the stomachs of newborn calves (in vegetarian or kosher cheeses, bacterial-, yeast- or mould-derived chymosin is used).

Cheddaring refers to an additional step in the production of cheddar cheese where, after heating, the curd is kneaded with salt, cut into cubes to drain the whey then stacked and turned. Strong, extra-mature cheddar, sometimes called vintage, needs to be matured for up to 15 months. The cheese is kept at a constant temperature often requiring special facilities. As with other hard cheese varieties produced worldwide, caves provide an ideal environment for maturing cheese; still, today, some cheddar cheese is matured in the caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge.

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 ofcheeses.

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 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, and "Montgomery's", with an apple aftertaste. Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is an example of a cheese made in the style of a traditional cheddar in Lincolnshire.

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