Cheddar cheese is one of the most popular cheese varieties globally. Known for its sharp, tangy flavor and versatility, cheddar has many fans. But what makes Irish cheddar different from regular cheddar cheese?
Irish cheddar comes from Ireland and is often grass-fed, giving it a richer flavor. It also tends to be less orange than traditional cheddar, having a pale white or yellow coloring.
A Brief History of Cheddar Cheese
Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar in England during the 12th century. To produce cheddar, curds are separated from milk, shaped into blocks, and aged. A process called “cheddaring” involves stacking curd slabs to drain whey and reach the desired texture.
Over centuries, cheddar production spread across the UK. Farmers in Ireland also began making it. Most early Irish varieties likely resembled English cheddars. Today though, distinctive Irish cheddars have emerged.
The Unique Properties of Irish Cheddar
Several key factors differentiate Irish cheddars from other types:
Milk Source and Animal Diet
Cows in Ireland typically graze on lush, green pastures. Their milk is higher in beta-carotene as a result, lending Irish cheddar a richer yellow hue. Ireland’s rainfall and moderate temperatures also encourage mineral-dense grasses, translating into flavorful milk.
Small-scale, farm-based production allows for regional variations. Farmstead Irish cheddars reflect local terroir, climate, breed diversity, and practices. This contrasts with mass-produced cheddar aimed at consistency versus uniqueness.
The aging process (called affinage) impacts flavor. Many Irish cheddars age for longer periods, intensifying taste. Wax wrapping also retains moisture better compared to plastic wrappings common for factory cheddars.
Large companies manufacturing cheddar tend to use color additives to achieve a uniform bright orange shade. Most Irish cheddars rely solely on the natural milk color instead. They also eschew shortcuts in pursuit of traditional approaches.
Irish Cheddar Flavor Notes and Texture
When comparing an Irish cheddar to other cheddars, you may detect subtle flavor and texture differences.
Irish cheddar shines with sweet, nutty notes complementing the expected sharpness. The cheese smooths out with even a hint of creaminess due to higher fat content milk. If clothbound, the paste may be drier and flakier with crunch from cheese crystal development.
Popular Brands of Irish Farmhouse Cheddar
Farmstead cheesemakers create some exceptional Irish cheddars. Here are a few labels to know:
- Kerrygold: Ireland’s top cheese exporter, Kerrygold offers several cheddar varieties like Aged and Skellig Gold.
- Tipperary and Wexford: These traditional grass-fed cheddars balance sharpness with fruity sweetness.
- Shamrock Farms: Their vintage cheddar ages up to two years, becoming dense with spice flavors.
- Ardrahan: Milder when young, their cheddar grows rich and round as it matures.
Trying any of these artisan brands offers a taste of Ireland through exquisite cheddar. Those new to Irish cheddar can start mellow, working up to strongly-flavored specimens.
Key Takeaway: Small farmstead producers create distinct regional Irish cheddars harnessing local resources.
Popular Uses for Irish Cheddar
However you use regular cheddar, swapping in an Irish version adds pedigree. Its amenable nature suits most applications.
Irish cheddar shines simplicity highlighted through pairing rather than complicated recipes. For dishes needing cheddar’s properties like stretch, melted creaminess, or sharp bite, Irish cheddar substitutions seamlessly integrate.
Consider these ideas:
- Pair slices with crisp apples, seeded crackers, or cured meats
- Make Welsh rarebit or sophisticated grilled cheese sandwiches
- Mix into mac and cheese or cauliflower cheese bakes
- Top baked potatoes, steaks, roasted vegetables, or tacos
- Craft cubes, sticks, or a cheese board for entertaining
For maximum impact, get creative with Irish beer and whiskey pairings. Pull out all the stops on St Patrick’s Day to celebrate Ireland through its distinguished cheeses.
Key Takeaway: Subtle flavor complexity in Irish cheddar still behaves much like regular cheddar for cooking applications and pairings.
Notable Milk Source and Production Differences
Several other key factors distinguish Irish farmhouse cheddar production from commercial approaches:
|Milk: Usually raw or lightly pasteurized retaining enzymes
|Milk: Homogenized and heavily pasteurized
|Ingredients: Traditional animal rennet
|Ingredients: Synthetic rennet sometimes
|Color: Ranges from pale yellow to deep orange if Annatto added
|Color: Consistently bright orange color from Annatto
|Size: Small 5-15 kilogram wheels
|Size: Giant wheels or blocks over 900 kilograms
|Approach: Manual practices relying on the cheesemaker's skill
|Approach: Highly automated, standardized processes
The farmstead model prioritizes quality. But smaller production volume also means higher prices for most handcrafted Irish farm cheddars.
For some cheese lovers though, deep flavors and painstaking practices justify costs for noteworthy Irish cheddar. Generous flavor complexity from seasonal milk merits the occasional splurge.
Key Takeaway: Traditional methods drive depth for farmstead Irish cheddar which exacts higher prices than commercial types.
Is Irish cheddar better than regular cheddar?
This is subjective, but many cheese experts and gourmands prefer the depth and complexity farmhouse Irish cheddars offer over mass-produced versions. Sweet, nutty flavors complement the expected sharpness in grass-fed Irish cheddars. Fans applaud the creaminess and skillful aging that small dairy farmsteads achieve.
Why is Irish cheddar white if cheddar is orange?
Orange color in cheddar comes from adding annatto, not the cheesemaking process itself. Many farmstead Irish cheddars rely solely on the milk's natural hue. This results in white to pale yellow colors reminiscent of traditional uncolored cheddars. Some Irish producers do add annatto though for a richer orange shade.
Is Irish cheddar expensive?
Artisan farmstead Irish cheddars are priced higher than commercial mass-produced cheddar. Creating cheddar in small 5-15 kilogram wheels from grass-fed milk is labor-intensive. But for cheese lovers, the depth of flavor and dedication to time-honored approaches justify occasional splurging.
What beer pairs best with Irish cheddar?
Beer and cheddar are classic companions. Irish stouts like Guinness offer bittersweet chocolate notes melding beautifully with nutty sharp cheddar. Irish red ales also harmonize with caramel hints suiting aged cheese. When using Irish cheddar, choose Irish beers to fully embody flavors from the Emerald Isle.
Irish cheddar differs from regular cheddar in some key ways. The grass-fed cows produce richer, more yellow milk. Small family farms also make each cheese batch unique using traditional methods like cloth wrapping and longer aging. This develops more complex sweet and nutty flavors.
So artisan Irish farmhouse cheddars have deeper flavor character than mass-produced cheddars.