Thank goodness it was the tea and not the cheese that went overboard in Boston. Cheddar (dubbed America’s most iconic cheese) has a kinship that crosses the Atlantic. Yes, clothbound cheddar unites America and England.
Centuries old and complex, the clothbound cheddar relationship has at times made the two nations collaborators, and at others, competitors. Through industrialization and World wars, the clothbound process has survived. Survived, but at a cost, as much of the knowledge of cheddar making (practical knowledge gained over centuries) has literally, disappeared. Disappeared in the movement towards automation that’s driven by lower costs and has moved consumers away from tradition, and frankly, taste.
Both here in America and in England, “Bulk Cheddar Cheese” has grown to dominate the cheese market. Thankfully, it has also been the spark for a revolution. A cheese making revolution that believes in consumer education and restoration of traditional cheese making with distinctive tastes. Ideas that closely parallel the goals of the American Slow Food movement.
In England, it may have been the same ideology that led Nick Saunders & Randolph Hodgson to open Neal’s Yard Dairy (in England) on July 4th, 1979. Since then, Neal’s Yard has been at the forefront of restoring English farmstead cheeses. Their efforts are restoring awareness of cheeses that have survived near extinctions and helping others migrate away from automation to tradition.
These same English cheese producers are sharing their knowledge with American cheese makers who lost the clothbound cheese making traditions in this country. In his book “Cheddar”, author Gordon Edgar writes that many American Cheddar cheese makers are, in grateful to be re-learning from the English. Vermont’s Cabot clothbound cheddar, aged at Jasper Hill, is one example of American cheese making that has learned from English traditions.
In part, what makes the transAtlantic sharing so interesting is that sharing the “how to” of cheese making only matters to a certain extent. Indeed Farmstead cheeses, wherever they are made, should reflect the character of where they originate. Grasses, the herd, starter cultures, rennet and more and define these natural cheeses and the resulting tastes. Unlike those made by process alone, the flavors are unique where each batch frequently follows the seasons in which the ruminants were milked.
To that end, I saw it fitting that as July fourth put America on the map, it also marks the start of a cheese revolution across the ocean and unites cheese makers in purpose. For your part, I recommend that you seek, find, taste and discover clothbound cheddars. The taste of place (terroir) is well worth the search and comes with the knowledge that you are helping continue a centuries long tradition. A tradition that in today’s world has become revolutionary.