Article Archive - January 27, 2006
Editor’s note: Each month, CMN profiles a different cheese, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing and sales, as well as any other interesting details we can unearth. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured cheese: Cheddar.
By Amelia Buragas
MADISON, Wis. — Cheddar may not be native to the United States, but it has become a distinctly American cheese. It is popular both on the East and West Coast — and every state in between. Children take it to school on sandwiches and four star restaurants offer it on their gourmet cheese platters. Last year alone, Americans ate more than 10 pounds of Cheddar per person.
Cheesemakers say the key to Cheddar’s success is its versatility. It can be sliced, chunked, grated or melted. And as the cheese matures, so does its flavor, allowing it to meet the tastes of a wide variety of palates. During the last six months of 2005, new Cheddar cheese products have included slices, crumbles, sticks, shreds, spreads, dips and sauces, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database.
“There are darn few recipes that aren’t made better by creative use of Cheddar cheese,” says Jed Davis, director of communications, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Montpelier, Vt. “It has good, if not excellent melting properties, and the ability to lend flavor that is second-to-none.”
Although fully embraced by U.S. cheesemakers, Cheddar was developed in England during the 15th century in the area of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. (The name “Cheddar” is believed to have been derived from an old Celtic word meaning “bag” or “pouch.”) According to Coombe Castle Int., an exporter of British cheeses headquartered in Wiltshire, Cheddar was a “classless” cheese eaten both by commoners and royalty.
In the United States prior to 1850, nearly all cheese produced in the country was Cheddar, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). Cheddar production in Wisconsin began in the mid-1800s, and by 1880 more Cheddar was produced in Wisconsin than any other cheese variety. Wisconsin currently is the nation’s leader in Cheddar production and produced more than 668 million pounds of the cheese in 2004.
Cheddar has a rich, nutty flavor that becomes increasingly sharp with age. Rind wax color often is used to denote flavor and age of the cheese with clear for mild, red for medium and black for sharp. Mild Cheddar has a firm, elastic texture and slices, shreds and melts. A medium Cheddar is creamier, with a fuller flavor and slices, shreds, melts and blends well into sauces. Aged Cheddar has both a crumbly and creamy texture and shreds and melts well. Aged Cheddar has the best performance of all Cheddars in sauce applications, WMMB says.
The federal standard of identity for Cheddar establishes a maximum moisture level of 39 percent and minimum milkfat level at 50 percent.
In much of the United States, annatto is added to Cheddar to give it a golden-yellow color. Annatto is a tasteless, odorless dye made from seeds of the annatto plant. White Cheddar is associated with Vermont, although production of white Cheddar is not exclusive to that state.
Jay Allison, vice president of sales and marketing, Tillamook Cheese, Tillamook, Ore., says his company has seen a rise in demand for white Cheddar as consumers seek product variety. To meet that demand, Tillamook is introducing a new vintage white Cheddar aged for two years.
Foremost Farms, Baraboo, Wis., found a market for white Cheddar in Greek pizzerias in New England. The company established its “1950 127” brand of white Cheddar in the 1980s when Greek pizza operators who did not speak English ordered cheese by the numbers on the side of the package. The numbers originally stood for the manufacturing plant number (1950) and cheese grader’s number (127).
Patrick Mathiowetz, director of sales and marketing, cheese division, Foremost Farms, says Greek pizzerias make an all-Cheddar pizza because they are looking for the buttery flavor Cheddar offers. Today, Foremost Farms sells its 1950 127 Brand Cheddar with labels printed both in English and Greek.
Mild Cheddar makes up the majority of Cheddar sales nationally, although cheesemakers say demand for aged Cheddar is rising with the aging population.
Not only are consumers buying more Aged Cheddar at the retail level, says Mathiowetz, but restaurants are looking to more frequently use natural cheeses, including Cheddar, instead of process cheeses. He says consumers want the flavor, body and mouthfeel offered by natural cheeses.
Aged Cheddar also offers a niche for small- to medium-sized cheesemakers where they do not have to compete with the mega-cheese plants that churn out millions of pounds of commodity-style mild Cheddar.
“As there’s been a lot of cheese production growing in the West, we’ve been looking for ways to get out of the commodity cheese market,” says Mathiowetz. “Through a lot of hard work, we’ve developed manufacturing techniques that allow us to produce for aging.”
Both Tillamook and Cabot also say they deal almost exclusively with aged Cheddars. However, Cabot recently introduced a Cabot Mild Reserve Cheddar in order to offer more variety to its customers.
Aging Cheddar is more than taking a mild Cheddar off the production line and putting it in a warehouse. For the cheese to be able to withstand aging, the make process must be more closely monitored and a higher quality standard must be followed, says Rich Scheuerman, president and CEO, Alto Dairy Cooperative, Waupun, Wis.
“In order for cheese to withstand the rigors of aging, it needs to be made under intense scrutiny,” says Scheuerman.
To position itself to take advantage of growth in Aged Cheddar sales, Alto currently is test marketing a branded line of aged Cheddars. The new line of cheeses will be sold under the Black Creek Classic label and will offer Cheddars aged from nine months to five years in 7- and 15-ounce packages. Scheuerman says developing a company brand is a novel move for Alto, which traditionally has sold its cheeses for private label use.
“Many people have been buying our cheese for many years and not realizing it,” Scheuerman says. “In an effort to bring more value to our producers and to our members we’ve decided to do this.”
Cheddar took back the title of most-consumed cheese in the United States in 2004, after being edged out by Mozzarella in 2002 and 2003. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, per capita consumption of Cheddar was 10.28 pounds in 2004, up from 9.22 pounds in 2003 and 9.63 pounds in 2002. Mozzarella is close behind with reported per capita consumption of 9.92 pounds in 2004, 9.65 pounds in 2003 and 9.66 pounds in 2002.
Production also is growing, although it has experienced small setbacks. USDA data show that in the last decade production of Cheddar has fallen four times — 1.3 percent from 1993 to 1994, 0.2 percent from 1997 to 1998, 2.6 percent from 2000 to 2001 and 4.3 percent from 2002 to 2003. However, growth years have offset those losses and production is up 28.1 percent for the 10-year period ending 2004. The largest single year of growth was from 2003 to 2004, when production climbed from 2.7 billion pounds to 3.0 billion pounds — an 11.2 percent increase.
According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s 2002 Cheese Channel Volume Study, usage of natural Cheddar outpaces that of processed Cheddar. In 2002, usage of natural Cheddar was at 1.1 billion pounds with 67 percent going to retail, 19 percent to food processing and 14 percent to foodservice. Nearly 400 million pounds of processed Cheddar were used with 68 percent going to food processing, 23 percent to foodservice and 8 percent to retail.
In terms of forms, chunk Cheddar is the clear leader, accounting for 45 percent of Cheddar forms, according to Information Resources Inc. scanner data. Chunk is followed by shredded at 23 percent, fine shredded at 13.3 percent, loaf at 4.5 percent, partial round at 3.9 percent, individually-wrapped sliced at 3.7 percent and all other wrapped sliced at 3.2 percent.
Allison notes that the availability of Cheddar in a variety of forms is another reason it is so popular in the United States.
“We’re making it extremely convenient for the consumer to eat lots of Cheddar cheese,” Allison says.