It’s no secret around here that we love cheese. From Dolcellate (which was an annual Christmas present from a client when O was working as a vet in Dorset) to Brie de Meaux (which explodes with the taste of honey when tasted with a sip of red wine), and from a goat’s cheese pyramid (which I carried in my handbag to London as a present for my sister) to Pont l’Eveque (which just plain stinks, but tastes gloriously rich if you can get beyond the smell of mouldy socks), the cheese board has a position of elevated importance for us in the course of a fine dining experience.
However, setting aside all regional and continental considerations …
If you’re wondering what to eat,
There’s one thing you cannot beat -
That good old tasty English Cheddar cheese.
As sung by The Wurzels.
In 2008, Cheddar was voted the nation’s favourite cheese in research by the British Cheese Board. Cheddar cheese and pickle sandwiches, Ploughman’s lunches … 90% of all households turn to Cheddar for its versatility. Whilst O and I mostly prefer to eat our Cheddar straight, with or without any crackers, it also excels when used as a bubbling topping on Shepherd’s pie, a creamy sauce for Macaroni and a melted filling in toasted sandwiches.
Cheddar is apparently the most purchased and consumed cheese in the world, with all modern variations originating from a recipe developed on the land around the village of Cheddar in Somerset hundreds of years ago. The earliest references to Cheddar cheese date from 1170, when it is recorded that King Henry II bought 10,240 lbs of it at a farthing per lb (in modern terms, that’s 4644 kg for a total cost of £10.67).
All Cheddar cheeses are not created equal however, and an enduring question concerns how people choose which Cheddar to buy. With a possible taste profile ranging from extremely mild to extremely sharp, it’s obvious that the exact same Cheddar is unlikely to please everyone. In our house, we prefer the mature Cheddars for their sharpness, dislike a texture that is too gritty with salt and look for a taste that grows and develops in the mouth. Taste aside however, considerations such as price, packaging and promotional offers also influence the decisions that consumers make. Add health considerations to the mix and research shows that 16% of adults restrict the amount of cheese they eat, choosing to eat cheese less often, to eat smaller portions or to buy lower-fat substitutes.
When Cathedral City Cheddar contacted me and claimed that their lower-fat, Cathedral City Mature Lighter Cheddar cheese could deliver taste on a par with their mature variety, we were naturally intrigued. As far as pre-packed, block Cheddar cheese goes (as opposed to the more rarefied traditional farmhouse Cheddar cheeses), we’ve always gone to Cathedral City Mature (or even Extra-Mature) as our first choice. Apart from loving how the bags have a resealable thingymagig along the top (which saves wrestling with countless acres of annoyingly clingy clingfilm), we’ve always found Cathedral City to be a good, flavourful everyday Cheddar that our children enjoy eating too.
Cathedral City asked me if I would be interested in comparing their lighter mature variety with their macho, full-bodied cheddar, and I agreed. This was a particularly timely proposition as we had recently tasted a variety of low-fat cheeses at the Devon County Show and had been unanimously unimpressed by their blandness and rubbery texture. It would be interesting to see if Cathedral City had come up with something better …
We decided to conduct a double-blind experiment in which samples of Cathedral City Mature were compared for taste with samples of Cathedral City Mature Lighter cheese. I sliced and divided the samples; O fed one of each (not knowing which was which) to our willing guinea pigs …
Although we found that the mature Cheddar does in fact have a more complex taste that lingers and develops for longer than that of the lighter cheese, we were very pleasantly surprised by the mellow flavour and creamy texture of Cathedral City Mature Lighter. When O took some taste-test samples into work the next day, two of his colleagues couldn’t tell the difference at all and one even preferred the lighter cheese to the higher-fat Cheddar. This is quite a result for Cathedral City – researchers have been striving to create a reduced-fat cheese with these flavour and texture profiles for years (see this report by the National Dairy Foods Research Center Program, for example).
A quick search of the internet revealed that Cathedral City Mature Lighter is already a popular choice of Cheddar, especially among those who are weight-conscious or on a diet. Posters in this Slimming World forum all vote for Cathedral City Lighter with comments like:
“I like Catherdral City Lighter – really very nice.”
“Another vote for Cathedral City Lighter. Best low fat cheese I’ve tried.”
“Definitely Cathederal City Lighter! It’s so good and I can’t tell the difference between that and the full-fat one! Mmm! Don’t like the Weight Watchers one it’s like eating paper, ew!”
Incidentally, the chewy, rubbery texture that is usually associated with low-fat Cheddar is down to the function of fat. In full-fat cheese, larger fat globules create weaker spots in the network structure which in turn break down into smaller particles during chewing, thereby allowing a smooth, creamy texture to develop in the mouth. In low-fat cheese, there are not enough weak spots in the structure to create this texture, which leads to a firmer, rubbery texture that needs more chewing before swallowing. So you can see how impressive it is when a lower-fat Cheddar also has a smooth, buttery, creamy texture, even when melted …
Cathedral City’s Mature Lighter Cheddar cheese should certainly be seen as a welcome addition to the reduced-fat cheese market. Unlike many other lower-fat cheeses, it is something that people can both enjoy and feel good about eating (and if anyone’s stuck for inspiration on what to do with it, then Cathedral City also provide a wealth of recipes on their website). Ultimately, I hope that more people than ever can now be persuaded of the glories of that good old tasty English Cheddar cheese!