Cheddar, a firm cow's milk cheese that originated in England, has become the all-American, all-purpose cheese. Often savored simply as an appetizer, it has great melting properties making it a mainstay of grilled cheese sandwiches and beloved in "mac and cheese." It comes in a range of flavors from mild to very sharp (depending on age) and colors, from white to a deep orange from food coloring. Orange Cheddars are colored with paprika oil and/or annatto, a natural food coloring derived from the tropical achiote plant. Both colorings are added to the cows’ milk before the cheese is coagulated and aged. The coloring doesn’t change the flavor or texture of the cheese—those characteristics are linked to how the cheese is aged, and for how long.
Farmhouse English Cheddar is always a big, drum shape and never a block like its American counterpart.
1/4 lb. = about 1 cup grated
Depending in how the cheese is being used, Gouda or Cantal can be good substitutes.
Some supermarket brands of American Cheddars are quite good, especially Cabot. But more and more artisan cheesemakers are making full-flavored aged Cheddars that are worth seeking out, including Grafton and Shelburne Farms, both of Vermont. Because there are no federal standards for how to define the degree of sharpness in a Cheddar, your best bet is to try different brands to see which you like best.
Slice, cube, or grate as recipe directs. If serving as part of a cheese course, take it out of the refrigerator a half hour before serving as the cold can mute its flavor.
Store Cheddar wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.