Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese

By on Saturday, October 15th, 2022 at 1:46 pm

The book, Cheddar, by Gordon Edgar, sits beside yellow block cheddar on a white stove

Cheese monger Gordon Edgar takes us on a journey across the country exploring the origins and history of America’s (second) favorite cheese.

Cheddar has long been part of American culinary history. We produce and eat a huge amount of it, and for most of American history, it was the leading cheese. (Mozzarella production surpassed Cheddar in 2014, in part because of the ever larger pizza market).

Such a common, popular cheese has many detractors, but Edgar makes the case that it can and does have complex flavors and varieties. In Cheddar, he highlights several examples, including a blue cheese cheddar once thought impossible and rare or artisan cheddars.

Edgar’s book is part memoir, part history lesson. As a cheese buyer for a a San Francisco food coop, he travels to cheese destinations to meet with cheese makers, and he takes us on that journey. All the while he explains many of the quirks of Cheddar. He even details the somewhat boring process of production.

Early in the book, he travels to Wisconsin in search of the monument to the world’s largest cheese. The original cheese was served at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The replica, however, is a bit disappointing. But in Wisconsin he also visit cheese cooperatives, and cheese factories.

He travels to Rome, New York to visit the first cheese factory and outlines why factory is something of a misnomer. Dairy collectives are perhaps still the best way to get the best cheese.

The book also examines manufacturing techniques including why clothbound cheddar is so expensive and why it was a unique product of American agriculture.

No cheddar book would be complete without mentioning British Cheddar, but the main focus here is on American-produced cheeses and the distinctions between Vermont, New York, Wisconsin and various other regional varieties.

Edgar, a frequent judge at cheese contests and contests involving cheese, offers an inside look at the industry. He also runs a cheese blog, Gordon “Zola” Edgar, a cheese pun we appreciate.

Overall this is a book that made me want to go out and eat the subject matter. There is for instance the Dunabarton blue cheese or the Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar. But its not all fancy cheese, either. He talks about accessible cheddars like Cabot too, and of course Kraft and Velveeta processed cheese.

It’s a slim volume, but one that is informative and entertaining.


Cheddar: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese

By Gordon Edgar
Chelsea Green Publishing
October 23, 2015

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