What Gives Cheddar Cheese That Irresistible Sharpness?

A block of sliced cheddar cheese on counter
A block of sliced cheddar cheese on counter - Alisa Korolevskaya/Getty Images

Cheddar cheese adds a punchy flavor to whatever it's partnered up with -- from crackers to sandwiches to nachos. If you are a cheddar cheese lover, you may be wondering a few things regarding its flavor and texture, such as why it has white stuff on it, or how it gets that distinct sharpness. In the case of the latter, that sharpness is the result of a specific process designed to cultivate that pronounced flavor, and it actually entails the cheese getting old.

Aging, also known as curing, is what gives cheddar cheese its signature sharpness. According to Wisconsin Cheese, aging occurs when cheese is left to ripen -- sometimes for as little as a few weeks or even up to a few years -- causing it to develop a sharp and sour flavor. Additionally, the longer a cheese ages, the more moisture it loses, which is what gives sharp cheddar its hard, firm texture. The length of the aging process determines just how sharp the cheddar becomes.

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How Long Cheddar Cheese Is Aged

hand grabbing wheel of aging cheddar cheese
hand grabbing wheel of aging cheddar cheese - Vaillery/Shutterstock

Cheddar is aged at varying lengths to produce the distinctive flavors, textures, and smells of mild, medium, sharp, and extra sharp cheddar. Mild cheddar cheese is typically aged for one to three months before you can chow down on it. As its name implies, the resulting taste is mild and slightly sweet, with a texture that is noticeably creamier than its older siblings -- plus, it melts easily. Mild cheddar also has a strong, musty aroma. Next up, medium cheddar gets sharper with a bit more aging than mild cheddar, for about three to six months, leading to a slightly more luscious texture, a bolder flavor, and a stronger scent than that of mild cheddar.

Sharp cheddar cheese is aged for six to 12 months, resulting in a dry, crumbly texture, a tangy flavor, and a pungent smell. Lastly, extra sharp cheddar is aged from 18 to 24 months. It has a very pronounced, super-sharp taste that matches its bold aroma. Note that when you slice extra sharp cheddar, it will probably crumble into little pieces. Determine if you'd prefer mild, medium, sharp, or extra sharp cheddar and incorporate it into one of the best cheese recipes, or pair it with a dish whose flavor profile complements the sharpness of the cheddar.

Pair Your Cheddar With These Complementary Foods

Broccoli cheddar soup on countertop
Broccoli cheddar soup on countertop - Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Sharp cheddar goes well with a variety of foods, including its classic combination with broccoli in broccoli cheddar soup. Another savory option to pair with that sharp cheddar? Make note to include some in your next ham sandwich. The sharp, creamy flavor of the cheddar balances the sweetness and saltiness of the ham for one delicious bite.

Dried fruits also add some crunch to cheddar's creaminess, along with some sweetness to counterbalance that sharpness -- which is why you'll often find them on a cheese board. Common dried fruits that go well with cheddar cheese include dried figs, dates, mangos, and many, many more. This should come as no surprise, as many dried fruit spreads accompany those cheese and crackers we love so much.

A variety of drinks also pair well with sharp cheddar, including red and white wines, as well as craft beers. That bold sharpness ingrained in everyone's favorite cheddars provides a nice contrast to a fresh and sharp-tasting Sauvignon Blanc. On the other hand, a thick, viscous Cabernet Sauvignon can balance the strong flavors of aged cheddar. Sweet beers that can balance out the rich flavor of cheddar also work best -- Wisconsin Cheese suggests pairing your cheddar with a saison or Belgian ale. Once you've found the right complementary drink, enjoy it with whichever sharp cheddar cheese you desire, now that you know exactly how it got its signature flavor.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.