Published December 1, 2007. From Cook's Country.
Is older better?
So what is extra-sharp cheddar? It depends on whom you ask. The USDA's only requirement regarding cheddar is that the final product contain at least 50 percent milk-fat solids and no more than 39 percent moisture by weight. As for what distinguishes different varieties of cheddar—mild, medium, sharp, extra-sharp, and beyond—that is left in the hands of the cheese makers. Our research revealed that most extra-sharp cheddars are aged from nine to 18 months. This much we do know for sure: As cheddar ages, new flavor compounds are created, and the cheese gets firmer in texture and more concentrated in flavor—and it gets sharper. But is more sharpness desirable? Does it make for better cheddar? To find out which supermarket extra-sharp cheddar cheese our tasters liked best, we purchased eight varieties (plus the winner of our previous tasting of regular sharp cheddars) and headed into the tasting lab to sample them plain (at room temperature to fully appreciate their nuances) and melted into grilled cheese sandwiches.