If you get overwhelmed by the wide array of cheddar options in the dairy case, you’re not alone. Color, degree of sharpness, time aged, shredded or block—for an everyday cheese, there’s an impressive number of factors to consider! You might wonder, does it actually matter in my recipes? Short answer: yes and no.
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But a few things first: The word “cheddar” comes from the cheese-making term "cheddaring," which refers to a process of stacking loose curds to expel moisture. In general, cheddar (and any cheese) gets sharper—more concentrated and pungent in flavor—the longer it ages. Mild and medium cheddars are younger (aged just weeks or a few months), while sharp and extra-sharp varieties are aged longer (up to several years).
Does Color Matter?
In a blind taste test, our team couldn’t taste a difference between white and yellow cheddars, so use whichever strikes your fancy.
What’s the Difference Between Sharp and Extra-Sharp?
Generally, extra-sharp cheddars are aged longer, but there isn’t a standard across brands for distinguishing between degrees of sharpness, so we found the names to be mostly arbitrary.
In our kitchen tests, sharp and extra-sharp cheddars behaved similarly in recipes, so they can be used interchangeably.
Can I Use Mild and Sharp Cheddars Interchangeably in Recipes?
Mild cheddar melts more smoothly than sharper (older) cheddars, so swapping a sharper cheese in a recipe that calls for mild could result in a greasy, curdled mess. Mild cheddar has a noticeably milder flavor (shocking, I know), so if you have to use it in a recipe that calls for sharp, you might want to also add a more aged cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino to make up for some missing funk.
Is Preshredded Cheddar OK?
While we always prefer to use hand-shredded cheese (as preshredded has a coating that can dry out the cheese and affect its texture), shredded is OK to use in a pinch. Especially in recipes like this Vidalia Onion Pie, where the creamy custard base helps smooth out any of the cheese’s shortcomings, the textural impact will hardly be noticeable.