The cheese world is filled with diverse and delightful options, from crumbly aged cheddars to rich, creamy bries and everything in between.
Two cheese-loving nations, America and Britain, both produce some fantastic cheeses but differ in their approaches and signature styles.
This article will dive into the differences between American and British cheeses - their history, production methods, taste profiles, and usage.
A Brief History of American vs British Cheeses
Key Takeaway: Both American and British cheeses have long, storied histories intertwined with the dairy and culinary traditions of each country. While British cheeses emerged earlier, American cheesemaking developed rapidly in the 1800s.
Cheesemaking in Britain has ancient roots, with written records mentioning cheese as early as the Roman occupation. Cheddar, Britain's most famous cheese, traces its origin to the village of Cheddar in England in the 1100s. Other classic British cheeses like Cheshire, Lancashire, and Stilton also appeared over the next several centuries.
Cheese production came to colonial America with European settlers in the 17th-18th centuries. British styles were initially recreated, but the hot summers led early Americans to alter production by waxing cheeses for better preservation. In the 1800s, the explosion of dairy farming in America enabled the rapid development of cheese varieties tailored to American tastes like Colby, Brick, Monterey Jack. The creation of processed cheeses also began at this time.
So while British cheeses emerged earlier, American cheeses rapidly developed their own unique identities in the 19th century to suit American palates and dairy production.
Comparing Production Methods
Key Takeaway: Traditional British cheeses are often made by hand in small batches and aged in breathable wrappings. American cheeses transitioned to large-scale factory production and plastic sealing for longer shelf life.
One major difference between American and British cheeses lies in their production methods.
Many classic British cheeses like cheddar are still made by hand using traditional techniques like 'cheddaring' to press curds into wheels. These wheels are then wrapped in cheesecloth, allowing air contact during aging which develops complex, nutty flavors. The small, artisanal approach preserves regional styles.
American cheese production scaled up rapidly in the late 1800s, adopting industrialized factory systems. Large 40+ pound blocks of cheese could be produced, sealed in plastic, and distributed nationwide. This enabled longer aging for sharp flavors but lacked the nuance of cloth-wrapped cheeses. More consistency, less complexity.
So British cheeses retain more traditional, small-scale craftsmanship while American cheeses embraced mechanization and standardization.
Some exceptions exist, of course. Farmhouse cheddars in America are often made using older techniques. And British companies like Dairy Crest produce cheeses like Cathedral City industrially. But the prevailing approaches differ between American and British cheesemaking.
Comparing Flavor Profiles and Textures
Key Takeaway: British cheeses tend to have richer, earthier flavors and textures while American cheeses are often milder and more uniform in taste and appearance.
When comparing flavors and textures, American and British cheeses inhabit broadly different profiles.
Cloth-aged British cheddars develop nutty, caramel notes with crystallization. Stilton has veins of pungent blue mold. Lancashires and Cheshires offer crumbly textures with tangy, herbaceous tones. Wensleydale delivers a honeyed sweetness. Even mass-market cheeses like Dairylea have distinct flavors.
American cheeses favored mild, approachable flavors for the mainstream market. Plastic-wrapped cheddars tend to be smooth and mellow. Monterey Jack is creamy and delicate. Colby has a very mild, barely tangy taste. Processed American cheese offers creamy texture but very little discernible flavor. Standardization overtook regional diversity.
So British cheeses lean towards rich, earthy complexity while American cheeses aim for gentle, uniform mellowness.
Of course, counterexamples exist, with mild British and strongly flavored American cheeses. But when comparing the overall approaches between the two countries, a flavor contrast emerges.
Comparing Usage in Cooking
Key Takeaway: British cheeses are often used in small amounts as accents on dishes or cheese boards while American cheeses commonly form the main ingredient in cheese-centric dishes.
How are these different cheeses actually used in cooking and eating? British and American cheeses occupy somewhat distinct culinary roles.
In Britain, cheese is often enjoyed on its own or used as an accent. A good cheddar or blue cheese may be served on a cheese board with fruit. British cheeses get crumbled on salads or sliced atop a burger. Hearty cheeses stand alone as ploughman's lunch. Cheese plays a supporting role, adding flavor in modest amounts.
In America, cheese frequently takes center stage as the primary ingredient. Think mac and cheese, grilled cheese, cheesesteaks, cheese fries, cheese-stuffed burgers. American dishes let cheesy richness take the lead. Even on pizza, Americans pile on extra cheese. Quantity trumps subtlety.
So British cheeses sprinkle dishes with flavor while American cheeses smother them in cheesy decadence.
This difference in usage - accent versus main attraction - helps explain the variations in flavor profiles between American and British cheeses. British cheeses supply punches of flavor for balance while American cheeses deliver abundant richness as the headliner.
Key Takeaway: Full-fat British and American cheeses have broadly similar nutritional values, being high in calcium, protein, and saturated fat. However, American processed cheeses contain more additives and less protein.
Nutritionally, how do British and American cheeses stack up against each other? Let's compare:
Full-fat British and American cheeses have roughly equivalent amounts of calories, calcium, protein, and saturated fat per serving. Dry, hard cheeses like cheddar contain around 400 calories, 30g fat, 24g protein per 100g. Soft cheeses like brie have 350 calories, 29g fat, 20g protein.
However, processed American cheeses differ. A Kraft Single has 75 fewer calories than cheddar per ounce but only 5g of protein compared to 7g. More fat is replaced with emulsifiers and stabilizers.
So whole-milk cheeses in Britain and America offer similar nutritional value. But industrial American cheese products swap more dairy fat for additives.
In their full-fat forms, British and American cheeses deliver comparable nutrition. But additives replace some protein and fat in processed American cheese products.
For health, reduced-fat versions of cheeses reduce calories, fat, and sodium. But this comes at the expense of texture and depth of flavor. Moderation of full-fat cheese enables enjoying flavors while monitoring intake of fat, carbs, and sodium.
Price Differences Between American and British Cheeses
Key Takeaway: Artisanal British cheeses command higher prices than mass-market American cheeses but comparable American specialty cheeses cost about the same.
What about cost differences between cheeses from the two nations?
Industrially made American cheeses from companies like Kraft remain very affordable, with block cheddar costing around $4/lb and Kraft Singles only $2.50/lb.
In Britain, mass-market cheeses like mild cheddar and Dairylea cost slightly more than these American versions - around $5-7/lb.
However, artisanal British cheeses fetch premium pricing, especially aged English cheddars at $15-25/lb. French imports to Britain like brie and Camembert can run $20+/lb.
Top American farmstead cheddars sell for equivalent prices to specialty British cheeses. Small-batch American blue and goat cheeses also command premium pricing on par with British specialty products.
So American commodity cheeses sell cheaply but artisanal American and British cheeses both fetch higher but comparable prices. Regional, small-producer cheeses fetch a premium on either side of the pond.
Key Similarities Between American and British Cheeses
While we've focused on differences, American and British cheeses still share some key qualities:
- Popularity of cow's milk cheeses - Cow's milk dominates in both countries. Sheep and goat cheeses occupy smaller niches.
- Cheddar reigns supreme - Cheddar remains the most popular cheese variety in both Britain and America.
- Innovation emerging - Farmstead cheesemakers in both countries are innovating new varieties using traditional methods. The future holds more delicious diversity.
- Higher quality, higher cost - In both nations, specialty cheeses made in smaller batches sell at premium prices but offer elevated eating experiences.
So among all the distinctions, cheeses from both countries retain some fundamental similarities rooted in tradition and craftsmanship. The essence of quality cheesemaking continues passing through generations on each side of the Atlantic.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the differences between British and American cheddar?
Traditional British cheddars undergo a cloth-wrapping aging process that allows air contact, resulting in complex nutty, crystalline flavors. American mass-market cheddars use plastic sealing and less aging time, creating a milder, creamier texture. However, some American artisanal cheddars now also follow traditional British techniques.
Why do American and British cheeses taste different?
Many factors impact cheese taste - milk origin, aging method, duration, bacterial cultures, and more. Britain traditionally favored more complex, robust cheeses while America pursued palatable mass-market mildness. But both countries now produce specialty cheeses spans a spectrum of flavors.
Do Americans or British consume more cheese per capita?
Americans consume more cheese per person than the British - about 38 pounds per year compared to 24 pounds in the UK. The higher intake matches American preference for indulgent cheese-centric dishes compared to the British approach of using cheese sparingly to add flavor.
While sharing an appreciation for cheese, America and Britain developed their own unique cheesemaking histories, production methods, taste profiles, and usage traditions. Britain took inspiration from medieval traditions to produce bold, nuanced cheeses wrapped and aged for full flavor development. America rapidly scaled cheese production in the 1800s and favored mild, creamy flavors with easy meltability.
But in recent decades, artisanal American cheesemakers have re-embraced Old World techniques to craft complex cheddars and specialty cheeses to rival British favorites. And variety, innovation, and dedication to quality endure on both sides of the pond, giving cheese lovers more delightful options than ever. The exchange of ideas can only continue enriching the cheeses of each nation.
So whether you prefer the rustic earthiness of British cheddar, the nostalgic creaminess of American slices, or a whole cheese board of variety, Britain and America offer a world of diverse flavors to savor. Cheese lovers worldwide rejoice!