Cooks Illustrated investigated the new world of “artisanal” cheddars, and found out if they were really worth the premium price compared to supermarket cheddar:
We were intrigued but skeptical: Other than gourmet-sounding names like “reserve” and “vintage,” what exactly might distinguish these fancy cheeses from the supermarket stuff—and would they really be worth the significant uptick in cost? There was only one way to find out: We held a tasting, sampling nine artisanal cheddars from both small and large producers straight from the package. (Fine cheeses like these aren’t intended for cooking.) We also set up benchmarks on either end of the spectrum, adding our supermarket favorite, Cabot Private Stock, to the mix, and later pitting the domestic winners against Keen’s Cheddar, long considered one of the gold standards of English farmhouse cheddars.
The first thing we noticed was that all of the cheddars tasted remarkably different. In fact, the spectrum of flavors was so broad—everything from mellow and buttery to pungent and sulfurous—that we were surprised that all of these cheeses could be labeled cheddar. Texture also varied hugely. Some cheddars were so dry that they crumbled in our hands, while others were as moist and creamy as Monterey Jack. One thing was clear, though: Our top cheddars were worth every penny. Several didn’t just edge out our supermarket favorite, Cabot Private Stock (which still placed respectably in the contest): They wowed us with “intensely nutty,” “buttery” tang and creamy-textured crumbliness. So just what was going on in the cheese-making process that produced such varied results?
Read the full story here.
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