On average, people in the UK eat about thirty grams of cheese a day, and it’s highly likely that most of that cheese is cheddar – our favourite variety by far. Whether it’s a wedge of something special for a dinner party cheeseboard or a block for grating over dishes and stirring into creamy sauces, it’s a staple in most kitchens. But just because it’s readily available doesn’t mean it’s easy to produce; even after the cheese is made, it must be left to age for at least a few months (and for vintage varieties, several years) before it’s ready to eat. During this time, expert cheese graders vigorously check the cheddar over and over again to make sure it’s at its very best.
Richard Clothier, the managing director of Wyke Farms and a third-generation cheesemaker, knows everything there is to know about cheddar. His family owns four farms, all of which supply the milk for the company’s cheese, along with 100 other farms found within thirty miles of the dairy. ‘All our farmers adhere to Red Tractor standards,’ explains Richard. ‘We respect the land, the animals and the environment. The natural way is the only way to make great cheddar; if you look after nature, then nature will look after you.’
The best quality milk is paramount when making cheddar, but because cows eat different food throughout the seasons, it can be hard to keep things consistent. It takes ten litres of milk to make just one kilogram of cheese, so it’s important to use the very best you can find as the flavours are amplified tenfold. ‘Once we start ageing our cheeses, the milk’s subtle taste is magnified further,’ explains Richard. ‘The ‘black art’ of cheesemaking is being able to control the quality of the milk.
‘Milk changes throughout the year, but the good cheesemaker adapts,’ he continues. ‘Only an expert grader should be able to tell a spring cheese from a winter one. Our predecessors always said that any idiot can make a great cheese in April, May and early summer, but it takes a real professional to make good cheese in December and January when the milk is thinner and the cows are on the back end of the winter feed.’