The following is a review of sharp cheddar cheeses from Cooks Illustrated. They reviewed both easily found supermarket cheeses and specialty "farmhouse" cheeses.
What should you buy? Supermarket cheddars such as Cabot, Tillamook, Cracker
Barrel, and Grafton Village offer relatively "clean" flavors and good
performance when melted. (The sharpness of the flavor varies.) For a first-class
cheddar experience, however, you may well want to seek out a real farmhouse
cheese that offers a more complex taste and texture (see "Farmhouse Cheddars"
Farmhouse cheddar cheese is made by small creameries that start with unpasteurized milk, hand-cheddar the curd, and then wrap and age the cheese in a cloth. To see just how good these cheeses really are, we organized a tasting, rounding up three farmhouse cheddars from England and one from Vermont. We also included Cabot, our top-ranked supermarket cheddar, for comparison.
With a price range of about $11 to $19 per pound, farmhouse cheddars are neither cheap nor widely available. But if you live near a specialty foods or cheese store, we strongly recommend that you try them. Even in the grilled cheese sandwich, all four of the farmhouse cheddars beat the pants off of Cabot. Whereas Cabot was merely "mellow" and "bland," the farmhouse brands were described as "honey-like," "grassy," and "laced with horseradish." Overall, the farmhouse brands provided a more exciting and enjoyable cheddar experience. Here are some comments on the four farmhouse cheddars tasted, with cheeses listed in order of preference. All four cheeses are highly recommended.
Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar Somerset, England
( $17.95 for 1 pound: Tangy, nutty, and rich.
Burrough's Farmhouse Cheddar Somerset, England
( $18.95 for 1 pound: Balanced, sharp, and intense.
Montgomery's Farmhouse Cheddar Somerset, England
( $17.95 for 1 pound: Herbaceous, earthy, and sharp.
Shelburne Farms Farmhouse Cheddar Shelburne, Vt.
( $10.95 for 1 pound: Nutty and delicate; like Parmigiano-Reggiano in both flavor and texture.