How Real Cheddar Cheese is Made: The Step-by-Step Process

Do you love cheddar cheese? If so, then you’re definitely not alone.

Cheddar is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. But do you know how it’s made?

In this blog post, we will take a look at the step-by-step process of making cheddar cheese.

We’ll also explore some of the differences between how cheddar is made in the United States and in England.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

Step #1 – Milk Preparation

The first step in making cheddar cheese is to collect the milk from the cows. This is a paramount important step because the quality of the milk will directly impact the quality of the cheese.

Cows eat different things throughout the seasons, so there will be a subtle difference in the taste of the milk (and subsequently, the cheese) depending on the time of year.

In general, cheddar cheese is made with whole milk. However, some manufacturers will use a combination of whole milk and skimmed milk. A process called milk standardization is used to adjust the fat content of the milk.

Once the milk has been collected, it is then brought to a cheese factory where it is stored in a large tank. The composition, temperature, and quality are checked.

Some traditional cheesemakers of the English cheddar don’t pasteurize their milk for a better flavor but most commercial brands do for safety concerns.

Step #2 – Pasteurization

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high temperature for a brief period of time in order to kill bacteria.

The milk is heated to around 71°C (160 °F) for 15 seconds. This process will eliminate the harmful bacteria, and unavoidably some naturally occurring bacteria in the milk which otherwise may impart a complex flavor to the cheese.

Also, pasteurization will also affect the composition and structure of the milk proteins (1). These changes will have an impact on how the curd coagulates and its final texture.

After pasteurization, the milk is cooled down and transferred to a holding tank.

Step #3 – Adding the Starter Culture

Acidification is done by adding the starter culture to the milk.

Starter cultures are a mix of lactic acid bacteria that will create lactic acid. This lactic acid is important because it will lower the pH of the milk, and help with coagulating the curd.

The slightly low pH is also crucial for certain bacteria to grow.

The selection of starter culture will also have an impact on the final flavor of the cheese. For example, the most common bacteria strains for cheddar making are Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis and Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris.

The Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis in particular is more heat resistant so it will tend not to be retarded/deactivated in slightly higher temperatures. Therefore It gives a faster result. However, it will also have a bitter taste due to the production of peptide compounds.

In addition, this strain produces very little to no carbon dioxide (2). For that reason, you will rarely see holes in cheddar cheese as in Swiss cheese.

More often, most producers will use a bulk of starter culture or a selected few. Therefore, different brands of cheddar cheese will taste somewhat different.

After the starter culture is added, the milk is allowed to rest for about 40 minutes.

Step #4 – Adding Rennet

After the starter culture is added, rennet is then added to the milk.

Rennet is an enzyme that comes from the stomach lining of calves (and sometimes other ruminant mammals). This enzyme helps with coagulating the curd by breaking down the casein protein “hairs” in the milk, where the proteins are then stuck together.

The rennet is added to the milk and allowed to rest for about 35 minutes.

During this time, the rennet will cause the milk proteins (casein) to start coagulating and forming a solid mass.

Nowadays, most commercial brands are using mold-derived chymosin enzymes for the same purpose. Some may not consider it to be vegetarian unless vegetable or microbial rennet is used.

Step #5 – Cutting the Curd

Once the curd has set, it is time to cut it.

This is done manually by using a long handheld frame with blades to cut the curd into small pieces. The industrialized method uses a large rotary cutter.

The size of the curd will be like rice grains.

The cutting of the curd is important because it will help with releasing the whey and also allow for a more even cooking of the curd later on.

Step #6 – Stirring and Heating (Scalding) the Curd

After the curd is cut, it is then stirred gently and heated up to around 40°C (104 °F) for about 30 minutes. The temperature is just right for rennet to work its magic.

Also, the heating of the curd is important because it will help the curd particles to contract and to expel more whey.

At this point, you will see that the curd has become denser and sink to the bottom of the vat while the whey rises to the top.

The next step is to drain off the whey.

Step #7 – Cheddaring

Once drained, the curd mass is then grouped and allowed to settle.

This is when the cheddaring process starts.

Cheddaring involves cutting, stacking, and turning the curds several times over a period of about 1-2 hours.

The blocks of curds are piled on top of each other. The purpose of this is to expel more whey from the curds and also to develop acidity.

The acidity is monitored throughout the period, some productions will also use water to wash the curds or added to dilute the whey. It decreases the lactose content, pH raised, and lowers lactic acid, thereby resulting in sweeter softer less-sharp cheddars.

Step #8 – Milling and Salting

Once the cheddaring process is done, the curds are then milled (or cut) again into small pieces. It is to allow the salt to distribute evenly.

After that, salt is added to the curds and mixed mechanically. Then, allowed to rest for about 10 munites for absorption.

The amount of salt added will impact the firmness and bacteria activity. Too much salt will retard the bacteria activity while too little will cause the consistency to be softer.

It’s usually in between 1-2% salt content.

Step #9 – Molding and Pressing

The salted curd is then transferred into a mold where it will be pressed to remove more whey. Nowadays also pressed under in vacuum for a shorter time.

It takes about 16 hours for the cheddar cheese to press. More whey will be expelled and the curd will become more compact.

After that, it will be left to dry for a few days. Waxing may be done during this time to create a barrier and also to prevent the growth of mold on the surface.

Some production may use cheesecloth, It’s impermeable to particles but still allows the oxygen to get in for bacteria activity.

The cheese will be transferred to a maturing room where it will be stored at a cool temperature (8°C or 46°F) and high humidity.

Step #10 – Maturing or Curing

This is where the cheddar cheese will be matured or ripened.

The aging process can take anywhere from several months to years, depending on the desired flavor profile of the cheddar cheese.

The taste and flavor of the cheese will change over time as it goes through a series of physical and chemical changes.

Where maturing takes place is remarkably important too. Typically, it can be in a natural cave or a factory aging unit. The atmosphere will have a great effect on the taste and flavor of the cheese due to the complex bacteria present.

Cheddar cheese that is matured in a cave will have a more complex earthiness flavor, appeared darker and rugged-looking rind, while those matured in a room will be milder, brighter.

After maturing, the cheddar cheese is then ready to be packaged and sold.

And there you have it!

That’s how cheddar cheese is made from start to finish. Hope you enjoy this little tour of how one of the world’s most popular cheese is made!

Do you have any questions or comments about cheddar cheese or cheese in general? Let us know in the comment section below!

FAQs

Is cheddar cheese real cheese?

Yes, cheddar cheese is a real cheese that has been around for centuries. It is made from cow’s milk and goes through a process of curdling, draining, pressing, and maturing.

What are the ingredients in cheddar?

The main ingredient in cheddar is cow’s milk. Some may use goat milk or a mixture of both. Other ingredients include salt, enzymes or rennet, and starter culture.

Why cheddar cheese is orange/yellow/white?

The color of cheddar cheese can range from ivory white to buttery yellow and to orange color. The color depends on the coloring agents added. Some common agents are plant extracts such as beet juice, spice annatto, or oleoresin paprika. Cheddar cheese is white or off-white if not colored.

How is cheddar cheese made in the US vs. England?

Cheddar cheese originated in England and was traditionally made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. The cheddar cheese made in the US today is typically made from pasteurized milk and has a more mild flavor.

They’re also different in terms of the aging or maturing process. In England, it is usually clothbound and has a more natural tasting.

Can cheddar cheese have holes?

Yes, cheddar cheese can have tiny holes or “eyes” sometimes but mostly “blind” without holes. It depends on the lactic acid bacteria strains used in the starter cultures.

One of the most common is called Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis. It is a homofermentative bacteria that don’t produce much carbon dioxide or even inhibit the gas production of others.

In addition, the long pressing process during production and absence of foreign particles also affect the fewer holes in the cheddar.

Reference:

  1. Research Gate
  2. Wikipedia